She waited with baited breath. The quiet in the air was chilling. She watched her breath rise and become mist every few seconds. His heavy breathing slowly turned into snoring. His body sank lower in bed.
She counted his breaths. Slowly, meticulously, starting over each time she feared she had missed the count. She finally realized that it had been many minutes since he had fallen asleep. She picked up the phone from his side. The screen lit up immediately. She entered the password. Her fingers moved frantically over the screen just as her eyes were darting all over it. She felt panic rising in her. Something that tasted like bile was collecting in the back of her throat. She swallowed hard. She continued to jump from one app to another, his messages, then his emails, then his photos. Nothing! She could find nothing. But she had heard him. Had she not heard him? Just two hours ago. She had heard him. Had she not heard him?
“You’re awfully quiet”, he observed lightly, sipping on his coffee.
She was afraid to look up. Did he know she had been sneaking last night?
“Just tired”, she said, deliberately avoiding eye contact.
“Strange”, he commented lightly and smiled.
She wanted to ask what was strange but was afraid to. She had a feeling he knew she had been looking in his phone.
He got up, deposited his plate and fork in the kitchen sink, splashed his face and dried his hands with a kitchen towel. She noticed water marks all over his shirt. She stared at him. Why did he not care?
“Don’t worry about the dishes. I’ll get them when I come back”. He said like he loved her. She nodded.
“Go to sleep”, he continued. “Get some rest. We have to be at the Masons tonight”.
He smelled his hands. “Yuck”, he made a face, “Should I wash them with a nice-smelling hand wash?”
She watched him with wide eyes. Any minute he was going to provide her with incriminating evidence. If he washed his hands to get rid of the nasty kitchen cloth smell……
“Eh, what the hell”, he shrugged his shoulders, “I work with a bunch of slobs. They don’t mind”.
With that her husband of five years gave her a light peck on the cheek and left.
Ariana couldn’t move from where she was sitting. She wondered when the last time was that they had kissed.
“There’s your incriminating evidence”, a voice mocked her. She went to the kitchen cabinet, poured out some tequila, downed it and poured some more. She instantly felt better. Soon she was fast asleep.
Ariana and Eric Jameson weren’t the only couple at Samantha and Justin Mason’s party when they arrived but were definitely the most striking. Ariana with her tall, waif-life figure, chestnut hair and delicate features. Eric, so charming with an easy laugh. Samantha came rushing forward.
“Guys, you’re late”, she exclaimed hugging them both together.
Ariana felt something familiar but couldn’t quite name it. She scanned the ballroom where the party was. What was it? Had she been here before?
Eric was laughing at Samantha’s bone-crushing hug.
“You certainly had been waiting for us”, he smiled affectionately at her.
“Cuz you’re my best friends”.
As Eric laughed and teased Samantha, Ariana noticed a girl in the far end of the room. She was looking at Eric the way a lot of women looked at him. Ariana used to find these longing stares a depiction of jealousy . She was proud of Eric choosing her. Just until a few days ago. But now…….. “Where have I seen this girl?” She racked her brain.
The girl’s eyes moved to Ariana. Their eyes locked. Ariana broke the gaze first. The girl had naked hatred for Ariana in her eyes.
“Eric! Who was that girl you were talking to?”, she tried to keep a casual tone while brushing her hair that night.
Why doesn’t he sound caught? Why doesn’t he ever miss a beat? Why does he make it sound just another name of just another girl?
“Yeah, Jessica. How do you know her?”
“She works with me.”
“You never mentioned her.”
He came up behind her.
“At least a hundred women work with me. You have no reason to know about them. The only woman I want to know is right here with me”.
He pulled her in his arms and kissed her like it was their first kiss.
But people say that men don’t kiss their wives or sleep with them when they’re having an affair! She wondered.
Outwardly she said,
“I’m tired” and walked away from him. He looked slightly hurt. She realized she didn’t care.
Two hours later they were in bed, Eric sleeping, Ariana waiting for the right time to get out of bed and raid his car.
She felt like a criminal as she made her way to Eric’s car. If she didn’t find anything there then where would she look next?
She opened Eric’s car. Eric’s smell welcomed her. She stopped momentarily. Many years ago when they had just started dating this was the fragrance that made her want him as soon as she got in his car. Now it made her nauseous. She felt dirty. She sometimes got upset with herself for doubting him. She had no one to talk to. If only I had a mother or a sister, she thought sadly.
She began to look. She found his car papers in the glove compartment. She threw a cursory glance over them and then busied herself with checking underneath the seats. There was nothing. Not even an earring or a charm from a bracelet. There were no signs of another woman on this car. Like there were no signs of her on Eric. She felt sick for doing this. She quickly closed the car and rushed upstairs and jumped in her bed. Eric turned over, put one long arm over her and pulled her in. She heard him snoring again. She felt she was becoming nauseous again.
Ariana confided her fears in Samantha and now felt like a fool. Samantha had laughed and ridiculed her. She couldn’t get why Ariana suspected something. When Ariana said that she didn’t have specifics but just a sense of something different, Samantha had doubted her sanity. Ariana was annoyed. More than that she was embarrassed.
“Samantha! I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t truly suspect it. There is something”.
“Like what? You haven’t given me one reason why you think he is having an affair. He hasn’t been less attentive. He hasn’t been hiding his phone from you. He hasn’t been coming home late or missing important dates. What is it?”
Ariana thought hard. She didn’t know why but she had a lingering feeling. She decided to not share anything with Samantha anymore. To dismiss it all she seriously said,
“I think you’re right. I’m being paranoid”.
“Don’t be paranoid. You’ll ruin your marriage. Eric loves you. There is so much love in your life. Why are you hell bent on destroying it all? Really, Ariana, hold tight and don’t let go. He’s a gem of a person. When I compare him and Justin….” She shook her head and became quiet.
Ariana felt bad for Samantha. Justin and Samantha had had problems since they had gotten married. It wasn’t a secret and had they not had four kids they would’ve likely divorced by now. She hated making her friend sad. She quietly touched her shoulder and said,
“I’m sorry, Samantha! You’re right. I shouldn’t doubt Eric. He’s my soulmate, he truly is. I guess when life gives us something that we don’t deserve, sometimes we act all nuts”.
Samantha smiled. She was an ordinary-looking woman. She had a busty figure and poor taste in clothing. She always looked like she was in a rush. She had a hurried manner about everything. Sometimes she calmed Ariana. But usually she panicked her. She and Ariana had known each other since college. But they truly became friends when they found out that they were dating two best friends, Eric and Justin.
“I’ll drop you now. The kids will get home soon and Justin is probably wallowing in his own filth. You know he’s a pig”.
Ariana looked at her with surprise. Justin and Samantha didn’t get along but Justin wasn’t a bad person. He actually was a very dedicated father. He just wasn’t the husband that Samantha wanted. She wanted to say something in his defense then thought better of it.
She got into Samantha’s car. As Samantha came around the other side and occupied the driver’s seat, Ariana was engulfed with a brutal wave of nausea. She looked over at Samantha. She was smiling. She couldn’t smell the stench. Ariana wanted to leap out of the car.
The next couple days were a blur. She knew Samantha was calling her repeatedly but she couldn’t talk to her. She asked herself the same question over and over. Had Samantha told Eric that she, Ariana, probably knew?
As before, it was business as usual for Eric. He sang while making breakfast, tried to get her to sleep with him as often as he could and was the same old loving and doting husband. She tried to detect subtle signs of infidelity but there were none.
She started to become doubtful of herself again. She continued to search the web for top ten or top twenty or top hundred signs of a cheating spouse.
“Starts to show less sexual interest”. One article said. That wasn’t true. Eric was just as mad for her. In fact, he had gotten hornier over the years.
“Seems very attached to his phone, changes passwords frequently, locks his laptop”. No, no and no. He left his phone around carelessly and didn’t bother locking anything with a password. She already knew all the passwords, if anything.
“Dresses up nicely. Uses perfume. Showers everyday. Shops for clothing frequently”. He’s the shabbiest and sloppiest guy I know, she thought morosely. How much I wanted him to be smartly dressed all the time! He wouldn’t listen. Who would date him? He smells like a trash can sometimes.
“Starts to become more attentive”. Huh? Why would he become more attentive to me if he’s having an affair? She quickly skipped to the next page.
“Becomes less attentive”. Which one is it? She screamed in exasperation. Screw you, all of you.
Her mornings usually ended with a shot of vodka, sometimes wine. She drank everyday. She realized she was gaining weight. She wondered if she was pregnant. She dismissed the idea. They hadn’t been intimate in six months.
But slowly she couldn’t ignore the tell-tale signs of worry, exhaustion, insomnia, starvation, excessive drinking on herself. She had gained weight unattractively. Her skin had become paper-thin. Her hair was lackluster. When she spoke she heard a high-pitched and nervous woman.
She thought of how she ended up here. The thought took her eight years back.
Ariana and Eric met through pure luck. He was interning with her father and she happened to be visiting. They met at her father’s office and found out they were the same age. They were inseparable after four dates.
Eric was the most amazing guy. He made her laugh and giggle. He also was a good listener. He had a large family and he loved them very much. He proposed to Ariana in Rome. Six months later they got married in Cancun. It was the perfect wedding.
The first four years of their marriage were blissful and lovely. They travelled and partied and worked and enjoyed each other. They didn’t have eyes for anyone else. Samantha and Justin complained about them being so busy and unavailable but they didn’t care. They were on top of the world.
Then her world started crashing slowly.
It was subtle things initially . A stain that looked suspiciously like a lipstick’s on her husband’s collar. She couldn’t tell if it was just ketchup. She washed it and it came off. Then she found it again on the back of his shirt. How could ketchup get there?
He had never been someone who texted people. And yet, she found him frantically texting someone. He didn’t hide it. He just was always so absorbed with the texting, a smile playing at the corners of his mouth, his brown eyes getting lighter, she wondered who it was.
She found him singing more. He had never been a singer and actually couldn’t stand singing. But now he hummed all the time. She tried to explain these signs away until she heard him speaking with someone over the phone one evening,
“I’ll be there. Don’t worry. Nothing is more important than you. Don’t worry about Ariana. She’s usually drunk by noon”.
And then he didn’t go anywhere. He slept with her. He went to work in the morning and came back precisely at 6 o’clock. His routine didn’t deviate in the least.
Ariana was going crazy but she knew this much! Her husband was cheating on her. And he was slick. She desperately wanted to catch him in the act but her drinking was becoming paralyzing for her.
It was nighttime again. She had started to dread nights. She hated the woman she became at night. Curious, conniving, on the prowl. She had been chasing his tracks for six months now and hadn’t discovered anything. She hadn’t spoken to Samantha since that day. She couldn’t tell if Samantha was the woman he was cheating on her with but she knew that she had smelled him in her car. The smell that used to turn her on had started to cause severe nausea.
She picked up his phone again. She wondered how he could sleep through the bright light of the phone. It was like nothing bothered him. “Must be nice to not have a care in the world”, she thought bitterly. Then she started to go over his messages ritualistically.
She hadn’t missed a single night when she hadn’t checked his phone for a new name, a new photo, a new number. Nothing! It was the same people. Justin, Samantha, his mom, dad, his siblings. Samantha never texted him, she noticed. Probably sees him enough during the day, she conjectured darkly.
Just like that she opened the messages from Justin. Justin was a funny guy. He had always been like an older brother to Ariana. She depended on him and had confided in him about many things about her family. Should I talk to him about my suspicions? She mulled over this idea for a few seconds then rejected it. Justin and Eric were too close. This wouldn’t remain a secret. And she couldn’t afford to alert Eric.
She started reading the messages from Justin. They seemed innocuous. Like two friends chatting. But she couldn’t get why there were about hundreds of text messages everyday? Some days the texts continued for about eighteen or nineteen hours. They were just casual texts with a funny emoticon here and there but the sheer number of texts was staggering. She wondered where Eric got so much time. He barely ever texted her. Or called her.
She went to his call log. Justin and Eric were calling each other about fifty times everyday. Calls were short between 5 and 15 minutes. But each day as Eric commuted to and from work his entire time was on a call with Justin. Surprisingly he had no texts or calls to or from Samantha.
Ariana felt a sudden chill in her body. She looked over at her husband. He was wide awake and was looking at her with surprise in his eyes.
“What are you doing?” He asked quietly.
“Nothing”, she lied automatically but then decided to be truthful.
“Eric! I’ve been meaning to ask you. Are you having an affair?”
He looked flabbergasted.
“No! What made you think that?”
Ariana bit her lip. She didn’t know how to talk to her own husband. The man she shared her life with. She couldn’t believe he had a secret side to his life. But as unbelievable as that was, she couldn’t believe that her husband had been having an affair with his best friend.
She finally said,
“I’ve read the text messages between you and Justin”.
He stared at her. Then he smiled,
“And what did you find out?”
“Why do you text him all day long? Why do you talk all day long? What’s going on? I’m scared to know the answer because it will devastate me but I’d rather have the truth. Are you and Justin romantically involved?”
Eric stared at her for a minute and then howled with laughter.
“Is that what you think? What did you read there that would make you so suspicious?”
Ariana thought about it. Actually she hadn’t read anything incriminating. There was nothing to prove that she had caught him. She felt foolish.
“My new boss is tough and I’m scared to make any mistakes. Justin is helping me navigate the project. I don’t know how I could ever repay him for his kindness to me. He has been most helpful in answering my calls, checking on me and texting me almost all the time to make sure I’m not messing up. It’s a huge deal that I have to make happen. I can’t mess it up. He’s helping me. Did you think I was sleeping with Justin?”
Ariana felt relief flooding over her. She laughed at herself. She was so stupid. Of course Eric was telling the truth. Eric didn’t like men. He had serially dated tens of women before dating Ariana.
“Yes, I initially thought you were seeing Samantha but then I saw Justin’s texts and I thought……” Her voice trailed off. She looked at him sheepishly. “I’m sorry”, she said, embarrassed.
Eric didn’t say anything. He hugged her. Ariana had forgotten how much she loved her husband.
It was winter and the air had changed. It would get dark around 4 and Ariana felt alone. She had asked Eric many times to come back early from work but he was right! How early could he get home?
She had been working out and avoiding drinking. She could see her body bouncing back. Her skin looked supple again. She had the old shine in her eyes back.
It had been four weeks since that night. She had slept through every single night since then. It was a wonderful feeling to trust Eric again. She didn’t really have a family. Her father had always been distant and her mother had passed away when she was young. She had no siblings. Eric was all she had.
She hadn’t spoken to Samantha yet. She wanted to speak with her but didn’t know how. She didn’t miss Samantha much. She was always more of Eric’s friend and hadn’t ever been super close to Ariana. Her only relevance in Ariana’s life was as the only woman that Ariana knew closely.
She peered out the window. It was getting dark and Eric wasn’t going to be home for another four hours. She decided to go to the mall.
As she entered the brightly lit mall she immediately felt better. She strolled through it, occasionally slipping into a store, checking out things and coming out empty handed. She loved window shopping. Suddenly she saw a familiar face.
What was her name?
The girl turned. She looked at Ariana quizzically. Then she started walking away.
“Hey wait! Don’t you work with Eric?” Ariana caught up with her.
“Hmm”. She said with her head low. She looked angry.
“Eric told me your name is Jessica. Is it Jessica?” She felt foolish asking stupid questions but she felt bad for thinking that Eric could potentially have an affair with this girl. She looked very serious and had an almost abrupt manner about her. She seemed uncomfortable by this sudden friendliness by Ariana but seemed to be taking it in stride.
“Yes my name is Jessica”.
“Can I talk to you?”
“Not here. I want to sit somewhere and talk to you. It’s not easy for me to say what I’m going to say to you. Can we sit?” She pleaded.
Jessica finally sat with her in the middle of the mall where there were two empty chairs surrounded by chatty people.
“First of all Jessica, I’m sorry. Extremely sorry. I have no words. I doubted your integrity as a woman, I shouldn’t have done that without solid proof. I’m sorry. I’ve never been an insecure person but something came over me and I thought my husband was cheating on me. One of the women I suspected was you”.
For a confession as big as this she sure looks very calm, Ariana thought.
Finally Jessica said,
“So have you found out who he has been seeing behind your back?”
“No one. That’s the whole point. I was being paranoid. He’s not seeing anyone. I was just going through, you know…….”
“What? What were you going through?” Jessica asked abruptly.
“Err. Not sure what but must have been something. I’ve never been known to behave the way I did for the last six months”, she laughed an embarrassed laugh, “I was going crazy trying to find evidence that he was having an affair”.
“I see! So you’re not sure what you were going through that made you act like that?”
“No. But that’s not the point. The point is we are good now. We talked and I realized that he was actually busy with work”.
“Hmm. Can I ask you why you suspected something was up?”
Ariana was becoming uncomfortable with this whole dialogue. She didn’t know this girl at all and had shared something deep and dark about her marriage with her. And this girl didn’t seem empathic. She was actually interrogating her like a criminal investigator.
“I’m not comfortable with this conversation anymore,” Ariana said abruptly. She got up. “I just wanted to apologize”.
“I accept your apology. Can I say something, Mrs. Jameson?”
“Yes, sure” Ariana said, her heart sinking, a familiar knot in her stomach forming, her eyes clouding over. She could feel a confession coming.
“Thanks for acknowledging my innocence. I’m not sure if Mr. Jameson had any hand in casting aspersions on me or making you suspect me. May be it was an invention of your own mind. But you are a woman of a sound mind. If you suspected something, I’d say pursue it until there’s nothing to pursue. To me it appears that you have accepted your fears as paranoia. You have clothed your suspicions as workings of an idle mind. There might be more to this story than you or I are able to know from the surface. A woman’s instinct is particularly strong in these cases. If you have had paranoia about other things before then sure, entertain that thought. But if you saw things that were where they shouldn’t have been, then my advice is to not dismiss your suspicions. You won’t be able to live in peace. You were jumpy throughout our conversation. I feel like you don’t trust your husband like you did before. You have just subconsciously accepted that you’re the one with the problem. I don’t know much or I would tell you. There is a reason why people hire private investigators to catch their cheating spouses. People who cheat lie on the fly, fib on the go and deceive as second nature. Consider this a friendly suggestion”.
Ariana was still trying to wrap her head around Jessica’s somewhat robotic and pressured monologue when Jessica got up, walked away from Ariana and blended in the crowd.
Ariana couldn’t sleep the whole night. She looked over at Eric. He was fast asleep.
She knew she had to speak with someone. She couldn’t just go to a private investigator. She had to do some snooping herself. She didn’t know where to start but she realized one thing.
Justin wasn’t texting Eric. There was someone else. And it was the woman whose car smelled like Eric. Yes! It was Samantha.
As much as this line of thinking made her angry, it also cleared her vision. She started to piece things together. In the last four weeks, she couldn’t believe she was admitting to herself, she had been nursing herself back to health. She had taken Eric’s feigned innocence with a grain of salt. She knew that. She had tried to hide the facts from herself because they were scary but she could see things more clearly now that she had some emotional detachment from Eric and she wasn’t usually under the influence of alcohol.
“I’ll drink once I catch him”, she thought savagely.
Little things became noticeable.
She found him spraying his most expensive fragrance in his underwear before wearing it.
She saw him working out everyday for thirty extra minutes.
His car started to look neat. Before, it looked like a mini grocery store with coffee cups and snack wrappers everywhere.
He went to the dentist for the first time in five years. He proudly told everyone who’d listen that he was declared to have the best mouth in the world.
He started posting his pictures more on Facebook. Ariana tried to see any new names, any new faces. They were all old friends. Sure enough, Samantha never commented. Her sudden absence from his life made her conspicuous.
He stopped drinking coffee. He started eating healthy.
One day Ariana noted as he was leaving for work that he wasn’t wearing his wedding ring.
She didn’t say anything. She was creating an inventory of offenses. She was slicker than him this time.
It was nighttime and Eric was sleeping. Ariana was again reading his text messages with Justin. There was an intimate quality to them. Like they shared their own language . She could tell that these weren’t texts between two friends. These were texts between two lovers.
Now or never, she thought.
She took the phone with her to the garage and hid it in her car. She went back and placed a similar phone next to Eric. His new phone had everything that the old one had. It just didn’t have the texts between him and Justin.
Or more precisely, between him and Samantha.
Ariana had known for sometime that her husband had saved Samantha’s texts under Justin’s name. She could tell. The same figures of speech that Samantha used. The same humor. The same raunchiness. They hadn’t counted on Ariana becoming lucid again. They were both happy with her getting drunk to numb her pain. She hated Eric. Samantha, she had no feelings for.
She slept afterwards. She had to do a lot of notes-taking and watching in the morning.
“Good morning, honey”, Eric entered the bathroom and greeted her with a singsong voice.
She smiled. He had on a crisp white shirt and khakis. He looked as handsome as ever. She appraised him in the mirror for a few minutes and then leaned over and kissed him.
He engaged her and started kissing more passionately. She persisted while running her hands in his hair. He started tensing up. She could feel his body going rigid. He pushed her away laughing,
“You’re gonna get me late. I’ve got a big meeting today”.
“I can tell. You’re dressed so nicely.”
He smiled at her benevolently then ran a quick brush through his hair. She could hear him singing in the kitchen as he made tea.
Suddenly the singing stopped. Ariana carefully piled her hair on top of her head, applied a little lip gloss and went downstairs.
As she had predicted, her husband was standing next to the stove frowning at his phone.
She sat at the table and busied herself with buttering her toast. She then picked up the coffee he had made and slowly sipped at it.
“Come on, aren’t you gonna eat ? What happened to your big meeting?” She said coaxingly.
“Did you touch my phone again?” He asked with a slight belligerence in his voice.
It’s funny how he sounds just like me when I was confused and dazed, she marveled at how easy the tables are turned in the game of infidelity.
“Oh! That’s too bad!”
“Too bad?” He screamed like a mad man. “That’s all you have to say when I’ve lost important text messages? My life depended on them. Now I don’t know how to retrieve them. They were Justin’s. He spent so much time writing those and now I’ve lost them. Are you sure you were not messing with my phone again?”
“Eric!” She said patiently, ” I have no idea what happened to them. Please come and eat”.
“I’ve lost my appetite”, he declared miserably and then stomped out.
Ariana waited for his car to exit the garage before she dialed Justin’s number.
“Hi Ariana!” She heard Justin’s friendly voice.
“Hi Justin! Is Samantha there?”
“Samantha? No! Try her phone. She goes to the gym at this time”.
“Really? She didn’t mention to me she was going to the gym.”
“Actually I’m surprised too. She never was one to work out. But she has been going all seven days. And pretty punctual too. Well, you know, whatever makes her happy. Gym makes her happy. I drive the kids to school. No big deal. She has been very careful with her diet and food choices also. She hasn’t had any beer in about eight months now. Can you believe that?”
Yes I can believe that! She thought sardonically. I can believe how the relationship with alcohol can change overnight.
“Justin! I’m calling you because of something serious. All the important text messages that you had been sending Eric about his project were lost for some reason. He couldn’t retrieve most of them. Do you think you could help him?”
Justin was quiet for a bit but then he laughed his good-natured laugh.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Which messages? Eric and I hardly message”.
Ariana tried to inject surprise in her voice.
“Really? But he said that you and him text for hours everyday and call each other multiple times too. In fact each time he’s on the road going to work or coming back from work he is on the phone with you. I checked his call logs and text messages a few weeks ago actually. I’m so ashamed to say this and I hope you keep it between us but I suspected he was cheating on me”.
Justin laughed. The same honest laugh. Ariana felt her heart breaking. He was like a brother to her.
“Eric can’t cheat on you, silly. He loves you. He worships the ground you walk on. But that can’t be me. I have no idea what this is all about. Did he say it was me?”
“Yes, Justin, he said it was you. In fact I have the number still that the messages were from. He said you used a different number to talk work”. She read the number to him.
“Ariana!”, Justin said quietly, “That’s a very old number. That area code isn’t even available anymore. But I know who that number belongs to. It’s Samantha’s number from when we were dating. But she doesn’t use it anymore”.
Ariana felt the weight of the world on her shoulders. She wished this was just between her and Eric. She wished there wasn’t an honest man involved here. She could take it but Justin was a simple guy with four kids and a wife who wasn’t happy with him. Her heart ached for the pain this was causing him.
She said in a steady voice,
“Justin! I have a feeling that she has been using it for close to one year”.
Ariana watched as her husband’s eyes darted across the computer screen looking for a way to download his precious messages from the cloud. He looked so much like a little boy who had lost his favorite toy. He looked slightly deranged occasionally but then seemed to recover his composure and kept trying to figure it out.
Ariana left him at it. She went to bed. She slept peacefully for the first time in about a year.
When she woke up next it was still dark. Eric wasn’t in bed. She went downstairs quietly and couldn’t find him. She finally saw the garage light on. She opened the door and stepped into the garage. She found him sitting in his car, rummaging under the seats, looking for something.
“Eric! What’s going on?”
He was jolted to the present. There was a look of frantic desperation in his eyes. Similar probably to what she had worn for many months. He had sweat dripping down his chin from sitting in the humid car. She remembered her clothes sticking to her back each time she was done searching the car.
“Ariana! Ariana!” And without any warning he started to sob.
She stood steadily and then walked over to him. She took him by his shoulders, helped him out of the car and led him inside the house. Once seated on the couch she asked him,
“Are you still worried about the phone?”
She felt pain through her heart that she had never experienced before. Her mother’s death, her father’s lifelong indifference, the knowledge of her husband’s infidelity hadn’t given her the pain that Eric’s yearning for those texts gave her. He was sobbing. Her husband of many years, the love of her life was in love with another woman. A woman who was married with kids. Who probably yearned for him just like this. She wondered what Samantha was going through.
Infidelity! It had seemed something that happened to other couples. It couldn’t happen to her. She had done everything right. Married a man who walked the straight and narrow. Had been faithful to him. Had loved him sincerely. Had dedicated her existence to him. She had never thought her marriage would see the pain of cheating. But here they were!
She remembered something that one of her girlfriends’ mothers had said,
“Every marriage has the chance of divorce, dear! Any marriage can have infidelity. People change. The fact that my marriage didn’t face infidelity or divorce doesn’t make it superior. It just makes it different. Divorce, death, infidelity, financial problems, fertility issues, kid problems that couples go through weren’t supposed to be societal stigmas and defining points of people’s lives. They were supposed to be part of the journey. It’s ironic that many people define others’ marriages with these occurrences. Those people, bless their heart, don’t have it better. They just have it different. They’ve just not been naturally selected”.
She thought about that conversation. How they had said as young girls that they wouldn’t ever take a cheating significant other back. She wondered if she had actually meant it. A part of her wanted her Eric back.
Eric stopped crying. He was lightly hiccuping now. He looked at her and said plainly,
“Forgive me Ariana but this is my moment of reckoning. I have been cheating on you with Samantha. Forgive me. I can’t live without her”.
And then the confessions came.
How they had thought they’d let her suspect them and then erase ALL her doubts. Saving Samantha’s number with Justin’s name was part of the plan. Once she was assured of their innocence they’d carry out their affair like they had so far. Eric told Ariana that he knew he wouldn’t have been able to get away with it any other way as Ariana was so smart. He told her that Justin didn’t know. Or may be he did and just went along with it because he wanted to keep his wife happy.
He told her he had known all those nights that she had been checking her phone. He’d erase all the texts that incriminated them in any way. He had been seeing Samantha during lunch hour. They wanted to give Ariana enough evidence that she’d suspect them but just enough that they could also prove wrong. It was a carefully planned setup. Ariana didn’t know why they couldn’t just come out and say they loved each other.
Eric told Ariana he had always loved Samantha but when Justin started dating her he stepped aside and never told Samantha of his true feelings. They remained great friends until one night Samantha called him over when Justin was out on a golf weekend. Between tears and hugs they ended up sleeping together.
Eric confessed that they used Samantha’s car to go around. When Ariana told him that she didn’t suspect much from all the little clues as much as she suspected them from his smell in her car, he seemed surprised. He wondered loudly how she could track someone by their smell. Ariana laughed sardonically. When you have loved someone and breathed in their smell night after night, it’s hard to not pick it up on another woman.
Eric told her that showing physical interest in her was Samantha’s idea. She figured it would make catching on to the infidelity harder for Ariana. But Eric was relieved to see Ariana not interested in him. He told her that he didn’t feel like sleeping with her. He appreciated each time she distanced herself from him. Unknowingly she was helping him stay honest to the other woman in their life.
When the night was over, Ariana and Eric had breakfast like nothing happened. Eric called Samantha from the bathroom. She came over to pick him up. When her car stopped in front of their home, Ariana saw a different Samantha. Pretty, nicely-dressed, happy! Eric caught her in a long embrace. They kissed deeply. They truly looked like in love. Ariana wanted to cry but the tears didn’t come.
Ariana adjusted the wreath again on Eric’s grave. She watched it slip lower until it was all skewed again. She readjusted it and it did the same thing again. She got tired. She got up and started walking to her car.
Eric’s death had made everything that a marriage feels threatened of, a reality. They had divorced six weeks before Eric’s death. Samantha and Justin were still in the process of divorce. Then all of a sudden Samantha had a change of heart. She couldn’t leave Justin. She couldn’t break her family. Justin was willing to take her back. Eric was abandoned by the woman he had left his wife for. The woman he claimed was the only woman he had ever truly loved.
Ariana couldn’t take Eric back even if she wanted to. The nights of insomnia and the days of drinking were behind her and she wondered if she was susceptible and would fall into those patterns again if she exposed herself to Eric’s baggage. She finalized the divorce and moved on.
Six weeks later, Eric died of a massive heart attack.
Ariana felt her heart lighter. Eric was in a good place. He had cheated on her but she wasn’t upset with him. He had fallen in love with Samantha, truly and wholly. She knew love can’t be tamed to act a certain way. He had been deceptive in his marriage but honest in his love. Sometimes it’s easier to remember the good than dwell on the bad.
Jessica and Ariana became friends. Ariana found out that Jessica knew about Eric and Samantha’s affair. She had covered for Eric a few times at work. But when she found out that he went to see Samantha she stopped lying for him. Jessica was a very perceptive girl. She was smart and truthful.
Ariana watched her date enter the restaurant. He was a tall and handsome man with blonde hair. Every inch of him screamed playboy. But she was attracted to him. She was enjoying dating men.
Today he looked serious. He sat down and said,
“We really have to be exclusive. I can’t take you going on dates with other men anymore”.
Ariana laughed. Sometimes she was taken aback when she heard her own laugh. May be because it was rare and hadn’t happened for many years after Eric’s death.
“Okay. What will I get for being exclusive?” She asked playfully.
“What would you want? I’ll give you whatever you want”.
“Whatever I want?”, she said thoughtfully. “I want honesty. Full and solid honesty. Honesty when you love me and honesty when you’re done with us. I promise to do the same. That’s all”.