Riley suggests that I tell Walt I’m leaving him tonight and spend the night at his apartment, but I can’t go through it right before my evaluation. This evaluation is possibly one of the most important of my life, and I don’t want to screw it up for myself by having a blowout argument with my husband the night before.
“You’ll tell him tomorrow?” Riley asks me, as he pulls himself back into his wheelchair from our position on the grass. I stand up unsteadily, brushing blades of green off my dress.
“Yes,” I say. “Definitely.”
“Okay, I’m sorry,” he says, “but last time you told me you were going to tell him you were leaving him, you got in a car accident and didn’t know who the hell I was anymore.”
I reach out and touch his shoulder. “That won’t happen again.”
“It might.” He grabs my arm and pulls me into his lap. “Do you want me to be with you when you tell him?”
“No, that’s okay.”
“Are you sure?”
“No.” I avoid his eyes. “I’m afraid he’ll punch you in the face.”
Riley gently pinches my ribs. “You think I can’t defend myself, woman?”
“It’s not that…”
“You know,” he says, “I’m actually pretty strong. I think I could take Walt in arm wrestling, no problem. Have you seen his skinny girl arms?”
“Look, I just don’t want you getting in a fistfight with Walt, that’s all,” I say. “Is that too much to ask?”
“I guess not,” he says grudgingly. Part of me thinks maybe he’d really like to get into a fight with Walt. He hates Walt’s guts, possibly even more than Walt hates him. And it would be a little hot, I have to admit. But I think it has the potential to get pretty bad, and I’m not at all convinced Riley would win. I don’t care how strong he is (and he is pretty strong)—having two extra working limbs has got to be an advantage in a fight.
Riley and I head back to our offices together. There’s still a reasonable amount left to type of my book, and then I’m going to send it out to Frank to review it. As I tell Riley goodbye, he grabs my dress and pulls me down to kiss him. It’s a little bit dangerous, considering anyone could see us kissing, but it’s dark by now, and anyway, it’s worth the risk.
“Be careful driving home,” he says to me.
“Don’t worry,” I say. “Just wait one more day. Everything is going to be fine.”
Except he still looks worried.
I don’t end up getting home that night till after 10. I’m exhausted, and my hands ache from typing so much. I feel kind of sorry for Riley, because I’m sure his hands hurt as much as mine, but he needs to use his to move around. When I kissed him goodbye before going home, I noticed he was wearing those braces on his wrists.
Walt is already home when I get back. I see his car in the driveway and feel a twinge of nervousness in the pit of my stomach. Considering what happened between me and Riley this evening, I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Walt today. I hate having to lie to my husband. Even though I can’t remember taking my marriage vows, I still feel some obligation to be faithful.
Walt is on the couch, flipping through a newspaper, when I walk in. His eyes darken when he sees me. “Why are you so late?”
“Sorry,” I say, as I hang up my coat. “I got caught up in doing work.”
“What work?” Walt challenges me. “You’re an English teacher.”
I don’t feel like telling him about my book. I know he won’t understand, or he’ll just belittle me and make me feel nervous about my evaluation. “I had to grade a bunch of essays.”
Walt eyes me suspiciously. “Just so you know, Margaret,” he says. “If you ever two-timed me, I’d make sure you didn’t end up with one red cent in the divorce. I promise you that.”
I’m starting to realize why it had taken me so long to tell Walt I was leaving him. “And what if you’re two-timing me? Do I get all your money then?”
Walt’s lips form a straight line. “Don’t be a smartass, Margaret.”
I shrug, although my insides are all tied up in knots. I can almost hear the blood rushing in my ears. “I don’t know what you’re so worried about,” I say, trying to make light.
“I’m not,” Walt says. “I know you’d never actually cheat on me. Especially not with that gimp Riley. I mean, that would be sinking pretty low for you, wouldn’t it?”
“Yeah,” I mumble.
“As if that would ever happen in his wildest dreams, right?” Walt snorts.
I nod, unable to look at my husband.
Walt puts down his newspaper and rises off the couch. He holds out his arms to me. I know that look on his face all too well. “Margaret…”
I cringe at the thought of him touching me. “I’m really wiped, Walt. Maybe tomorrow, okay?”
“No fucking way,” Walt says. “Look, I’ve been understanding about your accident, but it’s been a month and we haven’t had sex. I’m your husband. If you don’t do this, you’re a pretty shitty wife.”
I can’t very well explain to Walt that if I had sex with him, I’d feel like I was cheating on Riley. And not only that, the thought of him touching me makes me feel like there are bugs crawling around under my skin.
He crosses the room and puts his arms around me, and I close my eyes, bracing myself. I feel his fingers on my chin, and he lifts my face to his. At first, I think he’s going to kiss me, but instead he says, “What’s that on your face?”
I touch my chin, which feels raw. It’s beard burn. Even though Riley shaves daily, he grows facial hair so quickly that he has a perpetual stubble on his face that was several millimeters long at the point we were sucking face by the tree. I turn my face away from Walt’s. “I guess I was resting my head on my hand too long while I was grading.”
Will he buy it? I’m almost hoping he won’t, but I guess he does, because the next time he touches my chin, he lifts my face to his and kisses me.
Unsurprisingly, the kiss is terrible. Walt’s tongue feels like a snake slithering around my mouth, and all I want to do is shove him away from me. I feel his hand sliding up my back, and I’m terrified that I won’t be able to stop this. Walt wants to have sex. What can I do? Just grit my teeth and think of England?
No way. I know Walt pretty well and I’m willing to bet he hasn’t changed in three years.
“Do you want to go upstairs?” I whisper in his ear.
He nods eagerly. “Let’s go.”
“Just one thing,” I say. “I have my period. I hope you don’t mind. We can just put down a towel on the bed and it will be fine.”
Walt’s eyes fly open and he jerks away from me, clearly disgusted. “You’re bleeding? Why didn’t you say so?”
“Sorry.” I blink innocently. “But plenty of couples have sex during that time of month…”
“Not this couple,” Walt says emphatically. “I can wait a few more days. It’s fine.”
As he wanders off to the kitchen to satiate himself with food, I breathe a sigh of relief. I’ve managed to stave off Walt for another day, but this excuse won’t last forever. Riley’s right—I have to tell Walt that I’m leaving him sooner rather than later. And if he keeps his promise and I end up penniless, so be it. Anyway, I know that Riley will take care of me.
The next morning, I’m so nervous that I’m shaking during my entire drive to work. I want this promotion so badly. And even though I think my book is good, it’s still just a rough draft and I haven’t even sent it out to publishers yet. I’m not sure if that’s good enough to earn me a tenure-track position. Susan may like me, but I’ve never been a particular favorite of Frank’s. I get the sense he’d rather give the position to a man, as usual.
I’ve dressed as well as I possibly can. At this point, none of my clothes fit me anymore. Considering I’m only in my first trimester, I’m a little worried about my weight gain—I don’t want to gain a thousand pounds during this pregnancy. I feel like I should still have a few outfits that fit me, but here we are. Luckily, I have those dresses that Riley bought me, and I pair the most formal of them with a nice jacket and shoes. Like I said, it’s the best I can do.
When I go stop off at my office on the way to see Frank, Riley isn’t around, but he’s put a sign in his window that says “GOOD LUCK.” It definitely makes me feel a little better. At least one person is rooting for me.
Frank’s office is in one of the nicer buildings on campus. He actually has a view of the campus, rather than just of another building. Frank’s been chairman of the English department for over ten years and he gave me my first job as an instructor here. He’s been good to me, but he always told me that he couldn’t promote me unless I published.
When I walk into his office today, I can’t help but notice a change in him from three years ago. Three years ago, Frank was always kind of grumpy. Lately he seems different. He seems almost jovial. I wonder if that’s Susan’s influence. She seems like she could do that to a man.
“Come in, Margaret!” Frank calls to me as I hover in the doorway. “Don’t be shy! Have a seat.”
I take shuffling steps as I go through the door. I sit in the chair in front of his desk gingerly, as if I might break it. Although I really might.
“Let’s get down to business,” Frank says. “I know your students like you and you’re a good teacher. But as we always talked about, it takes more than that to earn a tenure-track position at the university. You need to be able to publish. And you haven’t. At all.”
I nod wordlessly. Not a great start.
“But I read that book you sent me last night,” Frank says. “Actually, I stayed up half the night reading it. It was fascinating! Margaret, how did you come up with that?”
“Oh…” I wave my hand. “You know…”
“Susan told me you’d have a big surprise for me.” Frank grins at me. “She was right. As usual. I think that book is going to bring glory to our department. I’d be happy to make some edits for you and then you should send it out right away.”
I stare at him, almost unable to believe my ears. “Really?”
“Absolutely,” Frank says. “Assistant Professor McDaniels.”
“Really?” Now I’m almost squealing.
I can’t believe this is happening. When I woke up from my accident, I had nothing I wanted. And now, just a month later, I have everything. The only thing I need back is my stupid memory.
Frank and I shake hands, and my head is still spinning. I can’t believe this. I can’t believe it! I got the job I always wanted! And I’m having a baby! And… well, maybe I don’t have the guy I always wanted, but maybe I’ve got one better than that.
I know Riley warned me not to text him, but I figure since I’m ending things with Walt tonight, it couldn’t hurt. I write: I got the promotion! Let’s celebrate!
He texts back right away: I’m in a meeting! Lunch celebration?
I’m a little disappointed. I want to see him right away and tell him everything Frank said, but I guess I can’t bust into his meeting. Oh well.
Still, I must tell someone! Not Walt, obviously. But maybe Jill. She actually has an office in the same building as Frank, because she’s a little better at getting what she wants career-wise than I am. In terms of her personal life, maybe a little less so. I wonder how things are going with Peter. I feel guilty that I’ve been so absorbed in my own problems that I’ve hardly asked her about him. I haven’t even met him yet.
When I get to Jill’s office, it’s empty, but the door is open. I push my way inside, guessing she left to go to the bathroom or something. Jill’s office is bigger than mine as well, with big windows and an actual view, like Frank’s. I really wonder how she got such a nice office. I don’t like to think anything negative of my best friend, but… well, she has an awfully nice office.
And a nicer computer too. From what I can see, it’s brand new with a flat screen. I round her desk, checking it out. How did she end up with a new computer when I’m still running Windows 1998? This is a little unfair.
I see Jill has her email open on the screen. I’m not exactly snooping, but I can’t help but take a little peek at the screen. And I’m surprised to see Walt’s name at the top of the email. Why would Walt be emailing Jill? Is it about me? I lean in to read the email:
Stop freaking out. She doesn’t know. Trust me.
What? Why is Jill freaking out? Who doesn’t know what? What’s going on?
I lower my hand, hovering over the mouse. It’s one thing to accidentally glance at what’s on the screen, it’s another to click on another email. That would definitely be snooping. Yet…
Well, it’s moot point. I’m already doing it.
I start at the beginning of the email thread. I read Jill’s initial email to Walt about a week ago:
Just a heads up, Maggie is spending a lot of time with Riley Samuels. I have no idea if she told him or not, but it’s freaking me out. At the very least, he hates me, and he’s not a fan of yours either.
First of all, how did Jill know I was spending a lot of time with Riley? Has she been following me or something? And what would I have told him? About being pregnant? But no, that doesn’t make sense. Walt doesn’t know I’m pregnant. I read Walt’s reply:
Samuels is such a piece of shit. He doesn’t know because if he did, he would have blabbed in two seconds. Not that she’d believe him.
Now I’m really confused. What don’t I know? I read the rest of the thread, but it just goes back and forth, with Jill insisting that I know something, and Walt insisting I don’t.
I glance out the door and Jill doesn’t seem to be coming any time soon. At this point, I don’t know if I can keep myself from looking at the rest of her emails. I’m pretty much dying of curiosity.
I skim through a bunch of work related emails and boring stuff from Jill’s parents. Nothing else from Walt. Until I find an email from Walt dated about two weeks before my accident:
I’ll meet you at your house at 7 tonight. Already txted M that I’ll be late. Can’t wait.
I feel sick as I read the words. Once, and then a second and third time to make sure I didn’t just imagine it. Jill and Walt were getting together at night without me. I think there’s only one conclusion I could draw. And I seriously doubted they were planning a surprise birthday party for me.
Jill and Walt. My best friend and my husband. It’s almost a cliché. How could she do this to me? I could see Walt betraying me like that, but Jill?
It’s the only email of its kind, but I suspect the others have been deleted. I don’t know why she kept this one. Maybe she missed it when she was purging her inbox.
I look up and Jill is standing at the door. She sees me at her computer, and her eyes go wide.
“Hi, Jill,” I say.
She rushes over to my side and discovers that she’s too late. I have the email from Walt up on the screen for her to plainly see. Her face crumples and her eyes fill with tears. “Oh, Maggie. I’m so sorry.”
I stand up to face her, although she won’t meet my eyes. “How long has this been going on?”
Jill wipes her nose. “I… I don’t know exactly…”
She puts her hand on her desk, steadying herself. “Six months, I guess. But it’s over. I swear to you.”
“And I knew?”
Jill nods, a pained expression on her face. “The day of your accident, you came home in the middle of the afternoon. You walked in on me and Walt in… in the bedroom. And… you freaked out. Before we could talk to you, you ran off.” She heaves a deep breath. “Next thing, we got a call that you’d been in a car accident and were in the hospital.”
And as she says the words, I can see it. Walking into my own bedroom, seeing a blond woman riding my husband in my own bed, his hands on her chest, her head tossed back with pleasure. Hair whipping back, catching a glimpse of her face. Realizing the woman was Jill. Seeing everything go red.
“I was so scared,” Jill says, tears spilling down her cheeks. “I know what Walt and I did was horrible, and I was terrified you were seriously hurt. Or if you weren’t, that you’d hate me forever.”
Jill’s absence from the hospital when I woke up finally makes sense. She thought I hated her. Until Walt told her I’d lost my memory.
“I felt bad that you lost your memory,” Jill says, wiping her eyes. “But in a way, it was good. Because you’d forgotten what happened.”
“That’s an incredibly selfish way to look at it,” I say. Not that anything Jill says could surprise me at this point.
“Well, I’m an awful person,” Jill sniffles, a hint of bitterness in her voice.
I look at Jill. She’s been my friend for so long, it’s hard to even see her. She’s prettier than I am now, with her silky blond hair and lithe figure. It’s not surprising that Walt would want her over me, but then again, I don’t think it was ever about looks.
“Why did you do it?” I ask her. “Is Walt really that hard to resist?”
“Isn’t it obvious?” Jill snaps, blinking her puffy red eyes. “I was jealous, okay? You were married to this great guy and I had no one. I’m 38, Maggie. I’m an old maid.”
“What about Peter?”
“There’s no Peter.” She hangs her head. “I made him up so you wouldn’t be suspicious.”
I feel like an idiot for having trusted Jill, for having taken her words at face value. Maybe she did have reason to feel a little jealous of me, but I know I didn’t deserve this betrayal.
“I’m so sorry, Maggie,” she says again, her eyes filling with a fresh wave of tears. “I swear to you, I haven’t touched Walt since your accident. It’s entirely over.”
I remember the lipstick on his collar and his excuse about the rose-tinted concealer. I give Jill a hard look. “Not even once?”
Jill’s face reflects her guilt. I can’t listen to another word of this.
“You know what? You can have him, Jill,” I say. “I’m leaving him as of tonight.”
She stares at me. “What? But where will you go?”
“I’m going to stay with Riley.”
She winces. “Riley? Come on. Maggie, I know you’re mad at me and Walt, but don’t let yourself get tangled up with him. That would be a huge mistake.”
“You know what was a huge mistake?” I shoot back. “Ever becoming friends with you.”
Jill’s face falls, but truthfully, I don’t give a shit. I can’t imagine ever being friends with her again or forgiving her for what she’s done.
To be continued...