When Jill drops me off back at home, Walt isn’t back yet. I have no idea what time he usually gets home. Last night, he got back fairly early, but that was my first day back from the hospital. I have no idea when he’ll be home tonight. Jill walks me into the house like she thinks I’m seriously ill, and gives me this concerned look. “Do you want me to stay?” she asks.
“You have a date with Peter!” I remind her.
She bites her lip. “I know, but… I could cancel. You’re sick. I don’t want you to be alone.”
“I’ll be fine, Jill,” I insist. Truthfully, I wish she’d stay. But I’d feel like such a dirtbag if I asked her to cancel a date on my behalf. “Do you, um, know when Walt usually comes home?”
Jill shakes her head. “I’m not sure. Pretty late, I think.”
How late is pretty late? “I’ll be fine,” I say again.
I practically have to shove Jill out the door, although once I do, I kind of wish I hadn’t. The house is so quiet. We don’t even have a burglar alarm. Someone could easily come right in here and murder me. Easily. Of course, this is New Albany, not Detroit. There probably aren’t too many murderers around here.
I hear a buzzing noise and practically jump out of my skin until I realize it’s my phone. I grab it from my purse and see a text message from Walt: Be home in an hour. Can you make dinner?
The message fills me with relief that my husband will be home soon. Plus now I’ve got something to do. I go into the kitchen, which has very little food in it. The cabinets are practically empty, save for a jar of pickles and a box of spaghetti. Spaghetti it is.
I fill a pot with hot water and place it on one of the stove burners. I start to turn the oven on, except… how the hell do you turn this oven on? My old oven, the last one I remember, had a dial that you turned. This has nothing. There’s no dial, no button, no switch. I run my hand along the stove, trying to find something that I can press to make the burner heat up. How does this stove work? Through telepathy?
I consider texting Walt to ask him how to turn the stove on, but I don’t want him to become any more concerned about my brain damage. Of course, I could always ask Riley. He surely knows.
No, better not. I don’t want to encourage him.
Screw it, I’m ordering Chinese food.
Two hours later, I have polished off both an order of chicken lo mein and Walt’s kung pao chicken. This is not my fault. They arrived right at the one-hour mark from Walt’s text message. The smell was completely intoxicating, so I ended up digging into my chicken lo mein. I finished it in about ten minutes, and then I was still hungry and kind of bored, so I decided I was just going to try a piece of Walt’s chicken. Then I figured he’d never notice another piece missing.
About thirty minutes later, there were only two little nuggets of kung pao chicken left, which wasn’t enough for a dinner obviously, so I just ate them. And the rice. At this point, I was basically just destroying evidence. Destroying them with the gastric juices in my stomach.
My diet will start tomorrow. I swear.
It’s about nine o’clock when Walt finally unlocks the door. I’m furious at him for being so late, but at the same time, I’m feeling really guilty for eating his dinner. I’m in a turmoil of emotions.
“Hey, Margaret,” he says as he walks in. “Sorry I’m a little late.” Almost two hours late! “What’s for dinner?”
“Uh…” I say. “I’m not really hungry. I figured you could just heat up one of the TV dinners in the freezer.”
Walt sniffs the air. “Did you order Chinese food?”
Are you kidding me? Is he a freaking bloodhound?
“No,” I mumble.
Walt sees something on the floor of the foyer and picks it up. It’s a menu. “Mei’s Kitchen,” he reads, holding up the clue like he’s Detective Columbo or something.
The delivery guy dropped a menu on the floor? That is really not classy. I’m never ordering from Mei’s Kitchen again.
Walt doesn’t say another word but he goes into the kitchen, maybe to see if he can find the empty containers. I start to get nervous at this point because even though I threw out the empty containers, they’re still in the garbage. And sure enough, Walt goes straight to the garbage where he discovers the three empty Chinese food to-go boxes. “For fuck’s sake, Margaret, how much did you eat?”
I consider telling him about how I tried to cook dinner but failed in my attempts to turn on the stove. Then I decide against it. “You were really late,” is all I say.
“Well, this is why none of your clothes fit you anymore,” he snips at me.
My face burns. “My clothes fit me!” Although, to be honest, the pants I’m wearing are a little snug. And they’re already a size 12. I don’t want to be a size 14. I’ll die before I have to wear size 14 pants.
“You used to care about how you look,” Walt says. He’s not even yelling, which makes it all the worse. He’s just stating it matter-of-factly. “That’s why I thought this little memory problem might actually be a good thing for you.”
I stare at him. Did he actually just say that to me? My eyes well up with tears.
Walt sees the look on my face and his eyes soften. “I shouldn’t have said that. I’m sorry. I know you’re still not well.”
Because if I was feeling great, then it would be okay for him to call me a fat pig?
No, that’s not entirely fair. I did finish his dinner. Maybe I deserve a little scolding. After all, he’s kind of right. He deserves to have an attractive wife. He doesn’t deserve to be married to the woman I keep seeing in the mirror. Maybe Riley seems to be attracted to me this way, but nobody else would be.
Walt pulls a TV dinner out of the freezer and pops it in the microwave, which seems even harder to work than the oven. Why are all our appliances so complicated? He pushes aside my purse on the kitchen counter to put down a glass for his drink, and the cheat sheet Riley made for me earlier slips out.
Before I can do anything, Walt yanks it off the counter. “What’s this?”
“Oh, it’s a cheat sheet to help me remember all the students in my writing class,” I explain, sensing that I shouldn’t mention Riley’s name.
Walt looks through it, chuckling slightly at the comments on the first page. Then he gets to the second page and his chiseled features darken. “What’s this? ‘Good luck! –Riley’.”
Shit. I forgot about that.
“Did Riley Samuels make this for you?” Walt asks, shaking it in my face.
“You guess?” Walt seems furious. “Why were you even talking to that guy? Didn’t I tell you that he’s a loser with a stupid crush on you?”
“He just brought me some coffee this morning, that’s all.” I avoid looking at Walt’s face.
Walt shakes the papers at me. “This could have gotten you in a lot of trouble, Margaret. You know that?”
“Obviously!” Walt snorts. “What if someone found it? You think it would look good if someone found out that a professor was writing ‘arrogant prick’ next to her students’ names?”
“Well, Riley wrote it, not me.”
Walt crumples up the piece of paper and throws it in the trash with my Chinese food containers. “You’re lucky I don’t report you for this.”
I can’t even believe what he’s saying to me. A lump rises up in my throat and I feel like I might burst into tears. But I can’t do that. I can’t show him how upset I am. “I’m going to bed,” I say. “I’m tired.”
Walt shrugs. “Well, you’ve already eaten, so…”
I storm off in the direction of my bedroom upstairs. I feel kind of sick from all that food swishing around in my stomach and also from that horrible fight. I put on my nightshirt and flop down in bed, but I know it’s going to be difficult to sleep. I really just don’t understand what happened. Walt’s a wonderful guy. I was dating him for two years before we got married and he never treated me like this.
I need to know what happened to my life. Nobody will tell me the truth and it’s really frustrating.
Well, not nobody. One person will tell me. If I push him, I’m sure I can get him to tell me everything.
I close my eyes, comforting myself with the thought of talking to Riley tomorrow morning. It’s the only thing keeping me from crying myself to sleep.
Amazingly, I do fall asleep. And when I dream, it’s of those hazel eyes again, only this time I know they belong to Riley. In my dream, we’re in a restaurant somewhere. No, a café. He’s sitting across from me and we’re just staring at each other in silence. Not awkward silence, but the kind of silence you can share with a person you know really, really well.
“It’ll all be over soon,” Dream Riley says to me as he takes my hand across the table. Even though it’s just a dream, I can feel how rough the palm of his hand feels in mine.
“I can’t wait,” I say. “I just want to be with you.”
“Soon…” he promises. And then he leans forward, as if to kiss me. Except instead of kissing me on the lips, he kisses my neck. Big, slobbery, awful kisses, practically biting through my skin.
My eyes fly open, and I realize that I hadn’t dreamed the kisses. Walt is spooning me in bed and is going all vampire on my neck and shoulder. I try to pretend like I’m still asleep, but then he shakes my shoulder and says, “Margaret… come on, wake up, honey…”
“Mmm,” I mumble.
He slides his hand up my nightshirt, cupping my belly in his large hand. Immediately, I feel self-conscious about all the fat down there, especially after his tirade earlier, but right now he doesn’t seem to care. “Hey, sexy,” he whispers in my ear.
“Mmm,” I say again.
He starts nibbling in my earlobe, which I absolutely hate. I’ve told him a thousand times I hate it when he does that, so I can only imagine he’s doing it to piss me off. It makes all the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, until I finally roll over, and say, “What?”
Walt smiles winningly. “Just trying to get you in the mood.”
I glance at the clock by our bed. “It’s two in the morning.”
Of course, in our pre-marital years, Walt and I had sex at all sorts of times. And it’s not that I’m so tired, although I am pretty tired. It’s more that I don’t want to have sex with Walt. Not after the way he treated me today. To be honest, the thought of it makes my skin crawl.
“I’m just really tired,” I say. “Maybe another time.”
Walt didn’t get where he is by giving up easily. He continues slobbering over my neck, like I won’t be able to resist it. Did he kiss like this before? I kind of always thought of Walt as a good kisser. “Come on, Margaret…”
I stiffen up and close my eyes, hoping maybe he’ll see I’m tired and go away. Except he doesn’t. He keeps kissing my neck and chest, then positions himself over me and starts to pull down my panties. At this point, I’ve had enough. I shove him roughly until he’s off me, and he lands with a plop on his own side of the bed. “I told you,” I say through my teeth. “I’m too tired.”
Walt’s face turns bright red. “Typical,” he mutters. Then he gets up and goes to the bathroom, slamming the door behind him.
Typical? Pushing my husband off me while he’s practically trying to molest me is typical behavior for me? That’s good to know.
I shut my eyes and somehow fall back asleep. I have no idea if Walt comes back to bed or goes to sleep on the couch, but either way, he’s gone by the time I wake up again.
Jill gives me a ride to work again the next day, and swears she doesn’t mind, even though I strongly suspect I’m putting her out. I especially feel guilty when I usher her out the door of my office, knowing that she can’t be here for what I have planned.
I don’t want to call Riley because after Walt’s freak out last night, I’m afraid of what he’ll do if he discovers the call on my phone. But I have to contact him somehow. I can see across the way that his office is dark, but I assume he’ll be here sooner or later.
I never found the signs in my office, but that doesn’t mean I can’t make my own. I pull out a fresh sheet of paper and a pen. Let’s see… the sign for coming over with coffee was… a square, right? I draw a big square on the paper and hold it up to the light. It looks… like a square. I mean, you can’t mess up a square that badly. I’m sure he’ll get the idea.
“Aw! You made a square!”
I practically jump out of my skin. Riley is sitting at the entrance to my office, watching me, a fond expression on his face. He looks slightly less rumpled today, and I wonder if he’s making an effort for my sake. Once again, there are two cups of coffee balanced between his knees. “You were trying to tell me you wanted coffee,” he observes, grinning at me. “That’s so cute.”
“You must be psychic,” I say, accepting one of the two cups from him. Once again, the coffee is perfect.
“Not really,” he says. He grabs the sides of the doorway to propel himself inside. “Like I said, I brought you coffee every morning. And sometimes in the afternoon.” He cocks his head thoughtfully. “Of course, coffee in the afternoon was often accompanied by a little… stress relief.”
He looks meaningfully in the direction of my desk, and I remember what he said about how he used to eat me out over there. Or was that on his desk? Or both? Anyway, it’s nothing something I want to think about. “That never really happened, did it?”
“Oh yes, it did,” he says. “And it could happen again, right now, if you wanted…”
I can tell by the look in his eyes that he absolutely means it. And not just in a horny “I want sex if I have to fuck a bookcase” kind of way. He looks like he really desires me. It’s almost flattering. “I think I’ve had enough of that, thank you very much,” I say to him.
Riley looks horrified. “You didn’t have sex with Walt last night, did you?”
I can’t believe he just said that to me. Well, I can believe it. But it’s still pretty bold. “That’s none of your business.”
“Please tell me you didn’t,” he begs me. “Please…”
“I told you, it’s none of your business!” But then, because he looks so pained, I add, “I didn’t.”
He looks very relieved. “Great. I wouldn’t want you to break up a six month streak.”
I stare at him. “You’re saying I haven’t had sex with Walt in six months?”
“There’s no way that’s true.”
Riley shrugs. “Fine. Don’t believe me.”
I bite my lip. I was happy when I believed Jill’s theory about Riley being a stalker who hacked into my computer, but now I’m wondering if that’s the truth. After the way Walt treated me last night, I don’t feel confident of anything anymore.
“Riley,” I say. “I need to ask you a question.”
“Anything,” he says.
I walk over and shut the door to my office, then go back to sit on my desk. He’s leaning forward in his chair expectantly. I look down at his feet, lying quietly in the single footplate. I remember what Jill said about him being a paraplegic, which means he probably can’t move his legs. It seems consistent with what I’ve seen. “I’m not sure if I told you this, but when Walt and I got married, I really wanted to have a baby.”
Riley’s dark brows knit together. “Yeah, I know.” The way he says it, I get the feeling that he’s heard this story many times.
“And I know we were trying unsuccessfully for a while,” I say. “But then… we stopped trying. And I don’t know why.”
Riley doesn’t say anything.
I add, “But I think you know why. Something happened, didn’t it?”
Riley ducks his head down and doesn’t say anything.
“Please tell me what happened between me and Walt,” I whisper.
Riley scratches his head, getting his hair to stand up on end like usual. “I don’t know, Margaret.”
“Stop it! You do know!” I clench my fists in frustration. “You have to tell me. What are you scared of? Hurting me?”
“Sort of,” he admits. “Also, a little of that ‘shooting the messenger’ thing.”
“If you truly care about me,” I say, “you’ll tell me the truth.”
“Or maybe,” Riley says thoughtfully, “if I truly care about you, I should protect you from the truth.” He looks proud of himself. “See how I turned that little guilt trip around on you?”
I glare at Riley, who flinches. “Please don’t throw your coffee at me,” he says.
“Then for fuck’s sake, tell me!”
He seems to be having some sort of internal struggle. Finally, he says, “You really want to know?”
“Yes…” Although now, all of a sudden, I’m not entirely sure.
“Walt was cheating on you.”
I stare at him. “Excuse me?”
“He was cheating on you,” Riley says again, in case I’d heard wrong. “A lot. You found out about a year ago and even though he convinced you to stay with him, which I think was a huge mistake, you decided you didn’t want to have kids with him anymore.”
Riley starts saying something else, but I can hardly hear him due to the blood rushing in my ears. Walt was not cheating on me. He would never do that. Never. I don’t care how much of an asshole he was last night. This just isn’t possible.
“Maggie…” Riley says, his eyes softening when he sees my face. “Maggie, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have told you. It was hard enough having to see you find out about it the first time… nobody should have to go through this twice…”
He wheels closer to me and reaches out to take my hand, but I swat him away. “You’re a liar,” I hiss at him.
Riley blinks at me a few times. “Wh… what?”
“I don’t believe you,” I say quietly, calmly. “This is all your little plan to get me to fall in love with you, isn’t it?”
“What?” Riley says again. “Maggie, you asked me to tell you… you begged me…”
“Stop calling me Maggie!!!”
Instinctively, Riley wheels a few feet back, to get away from me. He’s still got this stunned expression on his face. “I’m sorry,” he says softly.
“I know what you did,” I hiss at him. “How you… you hacked into my computer to find out everything about me…”
“What?” He shakes his head. “I would never, ever do that. Come on.”
“Jill told me.”
“Jill?” He makes a face. “You mean your stuck up friend? She hates me, you know.”
“She’s my best friend,” I say. “I hardly even know you. You think I’d trust you over her?”
His eyes darken. “You know what? Believe whatever the fuck you want. You asked me for the truth and I gave it to you.”
He spins his right wheel with his hand to turn his chair around, then he yanks open the door to my office. He’s so pissed off that he bashes into my narrow doorway on his first attempt to get out. He swears loudly and then makes it through on the second try.
I look down at my hands and find that I’m shaking. The truth is, I don’t know what to believe anymore. But the story Riley told me is just too painful to accept.
To be continued....