When I get to my office, Riley is already there. He’s in the hallway waiting for me, deeply absorbed by a game on his phone. I can’t help but think of my own words in the report I filed, “came to my office every day.” I watch him for a second, as he quickly lifts a hand off his phone, shifts his weight, then goes right back to his game.
“Riley,” I say.
He lifts his face and his eyes light up like they always do when he sees me. He shoves his phone back in his pocket and grabs a thermos of coffee he’s placed against my door. “What happened?” he asks me. “Did you talk to Walt?”
“Yes,” I say. I walk past him and unlock the door to my office. He followed me inside uninvited.
I pull the HR report out of my purse and toss it on my desk. “Why didn’t you tell me that I had to report you for stalking me?”
Riley looks down at the papers on my desk and his face pales. It’s clear he knows exactly what it is. “Uh…”
“Get out,” I say.
Riley put his hands on the wheels of his chair. “Maggie, it’s not what you think.”
I shake my head at him. “Seriously, get out before I call the campus police and have you removed.”
“No, wait!” he says. “Come on… look, I knew you filed that report. I told you to do it.”
I hold up my hand. “Just stop. Really.”
“Walt suspected we were having an affair,” he goes on. “He’s a lawyer. I told you that the only way to protect yourself from getting slaughtered in the divorce was to cover your tracks. I figured if you filed that report, he wouldn’t be able to claim we were sleeping together. Then after the divorce, you could retract it.”
“Right,” I say, my voice tinged with sarcasm. “You told me to jeopardize your whole career just to protect me against Walt.”
“Right,” he says.
I stare at him. “Do you know what that report says about you? Did you read it? It says you tried to manipulate and deceive me.”
“Of course I know what it says.” He crosses his arms. “We wrote it together. In bed. Unfortunately, we got a little drunk and might have gone overboard.”
I don’t know what to say, but he’s got to be lying. If I can’t believe words written in my own handwriting, what can I believe? Riley is really, really good at this game though. He’s got an answer for everything.
“Obviously if I knew you were going to lose your memory, I wouldn’t have told you to do it,” he goes on. “Believe me, it wasn’t fun for me. My boss had to sit me down and have a talk with me about it. It was really humiliating—he really thought I did all those things. If not for Susan, I might have been fired.”
His hazel eyes are looking up at me, wide and earnest. When his body was pressed against me yesterday, it felt so right. Could I really be so brainwashed that he’s managed to turn me against my own husband? I see the words from the report I filed flashing before my eyes: very manipulative. That’s all this is. Riley Samuels has become the world’s expert at manipulating me.
In reality, there isn’t even one piece of solid evidence that Riley and I were ever a couple. There are no texts between us, no emails, and I can’t even find those little signs that he claims I hung in the window. All the evidence points to the fact that he’s a liar.
“I think you need to leave,” I say to him.
Riley shakes his head, looking alarmed. “Maggie, you can’t—”
“Leave,” I say, more firmly this time. And then I add in a voice that shakes more than I would like: “Please.”
Riley looks at me and nods slowly. His shoulders slump and it seems to be a great effort for him to simply sit up straight in his chair. “Okay,” he says.
He looks so incredibly sad as he does a 180 degree turn in my small office and heads out the door. There’s a part of me that really wishes he’d just give up and leave me alone. It would certainly make my life easier.
What I really need right now is a neutral third party. Riley and Walt both have their own agenda, so I can’t trust a word either of them have to say. Jill is neutral, in a way, but I can tell she doesn’t think much of Riley. If something were really going on between me and Riley, I never would have told her and let her judge me for it.
But who else can I ask?
The only person I can think of is my mother, although that may very well be a dead end. My mother and I aren’t what you’d call close. I was always focused on my intellectual pursuits, while Mom was more interested in the latest recipes in magazines and clipping coupons out of newspapers. She buys all her clothes at Meijer or Walmart, even though I tell her that people can recognize that cheap crap a mile away.
That said, she’s still my mother. It’s entirely possible that I confided in her about Riley when I couldn’t tell anyone else.
I find my mother’s number in my phone and call her, knowing there’s a 100% chance she’ll be home. She does have a cell phone, but it’s the kind you haven’t seen in at least a decade (it was even outdated three years ago), and she barely seems to know how to use it. She always yells into it, like she thinks she’s on speaker phone.
“McDaniels residence,” Mom chirps into the phone. She’s been answering that way for as long as I can remember.
“It’s me,” I say.
“Maggie!” One thing I can say about my mother, she always sounds absolutely thrilled to hear from me. “How are you? How is your memory?”
“Oh, you know,” I mumble. When she calls me, I always pretend that it’s gradually coming back. I never admit the reality, which is that I still can’t remember a damn thing. “It’s getting there.”
“Oh, good,” she says, and I can’t bear to tell her the truth. “Is anything else going on?”
I hesitate, tapping absently on the keyboard in front of my computer. “I was just wondering… did I ever mention someone named Riley?”
I hold my breath, waiting for her answer.
“Yes, of course,” she says. “Riley. He was that nice boy in the wheelchair, wasn’t he?”
She knows about him. Not only does she know about him, she’s apparently met him and deemed him to be “nice.” Not that my mother ever thinks anyone isn’t nice.
“You met him?” I ask, trying to sound casual.
“Well, yes…” Mom sounds disconcerted. “You’re still having trouble with your memory then, Maggie?”
“No, I mean, I do remember,” I say quickly. “But I just can’t remember… um, when it happened, exactly?”
Mom sounds somewhat reassured by this. “It was a few months ago, I guess. You told me he had some conference in Cincinnati, so he offered to give you a ride. Very nice of him.”
“Oh,” I say. That’s it, I guess.
“And then he stayed with us for lunch,” Mom adds.
I wish I had the kind of relationship with my mother where I could just tell her what I’m thinking and not have to be so sneaky. “And… you liked him?”
“Oh, yes, he was very nice,” Mom says. “Very funny. He made Daddy squirt water out of his nose, he was laughing so hard.” A detail I could have lived without hearing. “He was lovely, except…”
Except? I grip my cell phone tighter. “Except what?”
“I’m sure he was just being polite…” Mom says.
It’s like pulling teeth to get her to say anything negative about anyone. “What, Mom?”
“He just seemed awfully interested in you,” she says. “He had all these questions about you, and he let me show him all these photo albums. It would be one thing if he was your boyfriend or something, but it just seemed odd, considering he was just your coworker. At one point, Daddy joked with him that he must be writing a book about you.”
Writing a book about me or totally obsessed with me. This is beginning to sound more and more like Riley was the stalker that I made him out to be in my HR complaint.
“Oh, but I’m sure he was just being polite,” Mom insists. “He was just so nice. Poor boy, crippled and all. He probably doesn’t have many friends.”
“Yeah,” I mumble, ready to permanently file Riley away into the “to avoid” category in my mind. Disabled or not, he had taken advantage of me big time. He found out I lost my memory and used it to make me think we’d be in love. I mean, how sleazy is that?
Then my mother adds: “And he did such a nice thing for you that night.”
That night? He did a nice thing for me that night? “What do you mean, Mom?”
“Well,” she says. “You went to a party with him at the conference, and it ran late, so he made them give you a free room at the hotel where he was staying. He must be quite persuasive. I was very impressed.”
Yes, there is, of course, a chance that I went to a party at Riley’s conference, like he said, and he managed to score me a free hotel room. But I can’t ignore the possibility that this whole trip was an excuse for Riley and me to spend a night together in a hotel. Which means he’s a liar, but not in the way I was thinking.
“It was very nice of him,” Mom says again. “Even Walt was worried about you getting home so late. He called here several times to see if you were back yet. I kept telling him to try your cell phone, but he said that you didn’t get good reception out here. Although it always sounded fine to me.”
Shit shit shit. Not only was something fishy going on, but Walt smelled the fish.
“Yes, I remember that part,” I say quickly. “Riley got me this great hotel room, and it was all the way across the hotel from him. I think it was actually in a different building.”
“Okay,” Mom says, and I can almost hear her shrug on the other line. She’s so trusting. It never would have occurred to her that I’d spend a night sharing a hotel room with a man who wasn’t my husband. Up until recently, it wouldn’t have occurred to me either.
This whole situation is confusing. I liked it better when I thought Riley was just a bald-faced liar. “Mom, I… I have to go…”
“Are you all right, Maggie?” Mom asks me.
“Uh huh,” I manage. “I just… have a class to teach, you know?”
“Of course,” Mom says. “And please say hello to Riley for me. I know he’s been a good friend to you.”
Oh Mom, you have no idea…
I thought nothing could have made this day any more stressful, but then a little after lunch eaten at my desk, my cell phone rings. I’m surprised to see the name Susan Richardson pop up. Why is my boss’s wife calling me?
“Hello?” I say, trying to hide my nervousness.
“Maggie, hi,” Susan says in her big, friendly voice. “How are you?”
“Oh, fine,” I say. “How are you?”
“I can’t complain,” she says. She pauses a beat. “Listen, this isn’t a social call. I wanted to give you a heads up.”
“A heads up?”
“Frank told me your biannual evaluation is next week,” she says.
“Right.” I’d seen it on my schedule, but tried not to think about it.
“There’s a tenure track position open,” Susan says. “I just wanted you to know about it. I think you have a great shot.”
“Of course!” Susan says. “Don’t be modest, Maggie!”
I wouldn’t be modest if I had any slight clue what she was talking about. “Um,” is all I can say.
“Riley told me everything,” she says. “I know you’re going to impress Frank. I’m not even talking you up because I want him to just be blown away.” She sniffs. “Well, I’m talking you up a little.”
What did Riley tell her exactly? That I’m great in bed? That I was in the marching band in high school? Maybe I don’t want to know the answer to that question. “Thank you for the vote of confidence.”
“Wonderful!” Susan sounds pleased. “And… is anything else new with… anything?”
I’m tempted to tell her about the stalking report I filed against her favorite person, Riley Samuels. I wonder what she’d have to say about that. “No, nothing really.”
“Oh.” Susan sounds disappointed, like she had expected me to report some great news.
“Anyway, thanks for calling,” I say, trying to wrap up the conversation.
“Oh, no problem,” Susan says. “Good luck, Maggie! Not that you need it!”
I don’t? I think if there’s one thing I do need right now, it’s a lot of luck.
Walt arrives home at his usual 9PM. I’m sitting on the couch, watching X-Factor, even though what I really should be doing is thinking of ways to try to impress Frank. But I like the X-Factor. It’s nice to hear people get yelled at that aren’t me.
Walt’s quiet as he hangs up his coat and yanks off his tie. As I look at him, I’m again struck by how different Riley is from my husband. Walt always has on crisp, expensive suits, and he never has so much as a hair out of place. He’s immaculate at all times. And I always found that incredibly sexy about him.
“So?” Walt says to me finally, his blue eyes meeting mine for an instant. He’s still hovering in the doorway, as if he thinks I might ask him to leave.
“I found the report I filed,” I say.
“And?” Walt says impatiently.
“You were right,” I admit, hanging my head. “I’m sorry.”
Walt’s face breaks out into a grin for a moment, but then it fades. “I should probably apologize too, Margaret,” he says. “I know it must be hard on you to lose your memory this way. I can’t imagine what that’s like. You probably don’t know who to believe.”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“I feel sorry for Riley, I really do,” he says. “I mean, he’s crippled, and it’s not like there are a lot of women to meet in computer science. You were nice to him and he just took it the wrong way. It’s understandable. Really, I shouldn’t blame him.” He shakes his head. “Can you imagine though? Him thinking something might happen between you and him? Ridiculous.”
I can’t even look at Walt. If I do, he’ll surely know from my face that Riley and I were kissing only yesterday.
“Anyway,” he says, “I’m glad we sorted that out.”
On that note, Walt holds his arms out to me. I rise off the couch, still keeping my eyes slightly pinned on the X-Factor judges, and allow Walt to hug me. We don’t kiss. He doesn’t even try to kiss me, and I’m kind of grateful. Especially since I catch a whiff of something that I’m almost positive is unfamiliar perfume.
“What’s for dinner?” Walt asks me.
“I already ate,” I say.
“Naturally,” he says. “I know you can’t wait.”
My face flushes. “There are some TV dinners in the freezer. I can heat one up for you.”
“The dinner of kings,” Walt says, his voice tinged with sarcasm. I guess he feels I let him eat TV dinners too often. Which I suppose I do. I guess in a lot of ways, I haven’t been the best wife. Maybe that’s something I need to work on.
As I walk into the kitchen to heat up some frozen chicken a la king, I make a vow to myself: I am not going to talk to Riley anymore. I’m going to try to get my body back in good shape and be the kind of wife that Walt doesn’t want to cheat on. It doesn’t matter what happened in the past. This accident is a new start for me. I’m going to take this opportunity to fix my marriage.
To be continued....