I still don’t know what to do about Walt’s infidelities. I wish I knew exactly what happened the last time I confronted him. I suppose I could ask Jill, but I get the feeling she thinks I should stick with Walt no matter what. I question any advice she has to give me. And the only other person I could talk to about this would be Riley.
By mid-afternoon, my brain feels fried and I wish Jill would get done with work already so I could just go home. I glance at the window and see the light is on in Riley’s office.
On an impulse, I grab a fresh piece of paper and draw a square. Since I don’t have any tape or method to pin it up, I press the picture against the window with my hand. I can see Riley in his office, his eyes on the computer screen. I mouth the words, “Look up!”
A minute later, Riley pushes back from his desk and heads out of the office. I have no idea if he saw my sign. Is he coming here or going somewhere entirely different? I toss my sign onto my desk, feeling discouraged. I need to talk to someone about this.
Just when I’m about to give up hope, I hear a knock at my office door. I open it and see Riley sitting there, wearing a jacket. “When you said coffee, I hope you didn’t mean coffee,” he says. “Because I didn’t bring any.”
“I didn’t mean coffee,” I confirm.
“Get your jacket,” he says. “I’m taking you somewhere.”
Even with my jacket on, it’s a little nippy out. I hug myself for warmth. You’d think with all this extra weight, I wouldn’t get cold so damn easily. Riley, on the other hand, seems completely unperturbed by the cold. He leads me on a path away from our offices, one that I’m not entirely familiar with.
“Where are we going?” I ask him.
I have no idea what he’s talking about, until ten minutes later, when we end up in a field on the very edge of campus. It’s pretty secluded, actually. And sure enough, there’s a lone tree. “We used to meet here a lot,” he says. The wind is tousling his hair, making it even more disheveled than usual. “Remember the tree sign?”
I look around. “Are you sure it’s… secluded enough?”
“Well, we’re just talking, aren’t we, Margaret? So I’d say it doesn’t make a difference.”
Despite the cold, I feel my face get hot. I hug myself tighter and sit down in the grass, leaning against the thick hard wood of the tree. Riley lowers himself out of his wheelchair, and his legs seem to support him only briefly as he slides himself onto the ground next to me. I try not to watch as he uses his hands to straighten his legs out, then drags himself backwards to lean against the tree for support. After watching him, I don’t think he can sit up unsupported very well.
“You look freezing,” he says.
“N-n-n-no, I’m not,” I say through chattering teeth.
Riley smiles at me and then pulls off his jacket and puts it around my shoulders. “Aren’t you going to be cold?” I ask him, feeling like I ought to refuse but at the same time, really wanting the jacket.
“Nah,” he says. “It’s like, sixty degrees out. You’re just always abnormally cold.” He adds, “It’s cute.”
I remember that image I had back at the barbecue, of me and Riley half-naked on the grass. I get this strong feeling that this tree has something to do with that flashback. I clear my throat. “Did we ever… you know… by this tree?”
“Oh, yes.” Riley nods emphatically, then squints at me. “Why? Do you remember?”
“No,” I say. It’s not really a lie. I have no idea if that image in my head was real. It could have just been my imagination filling in the pieces.
Riley looks disappointed, but I can tell he’s trying not to let on. “So what was this morning all about?”
I turn away from him and start playing with a blade of grass. “You were right about Walt cheating on me.”
Riley doesn’t say “I told you so,” at least. He’s quiet for a little bit, then says, “So what are you going to do?”
“I have no idea.” I rip the blade of grass straight out of the ground. “What did I do last time?”
“Cried a lot,” Riley says. “Made out with me.”
I raise my head to look at him. “So basically, you took advantage of my vulnerability.”
“Yes, basically,” he says, grinning slightly.
“It’s not funny.”
The smile fades from his lips. “I’m sorry. Just trying to cheer you up.”
“I deserve this,” I say, almost to myself. “I completely let myself go. I looked totally different when we first got married.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Riley grabs my shoulder so I’ll turn to look at his face. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever met. How could you even say that?”
“Oh, please,” I snort. “I’m not the ‘most beautiful woman you’ve ever met.’ I’m not even close. You sound so full of shit when you say that.”
Truthfully, he doesn’t sound full of shit. He sounds like he genuinely means it. But I know he can’t. I mean, come on.
“You are,” he insists.
“Well, no offense,” I say. “But your standards may be a little lower than Walt’s.”
“Really nice,” Riley says. “So because I’m crippled, I’m willing to fuck anybody who will take me?”
He’s right. That was exactly what I was implying. And I see on his face how hurt he looks, and I’m filled with regret. “I’m sorry,” I say. “I didn’t mean it like that.”
He’d be justified to storm off right now, and for a second, I’m scared he might. But instead, he leans back against the tree and closes his hazel eyes. It always surprises me how long his eyelashes are. “I know you didn’t.”
We sit there in silence for several minutes. I don’t feel as cold anymore under both my jacket and Riley’s. “You used to do a lot of writing here,” he says quietly.
“I did?” I’m surprised. “What did I write?”
“Everything,” he says, smiling at the memory. “Sometimes you’d work on your book. Sometimes you’d write poems. They were really good. I hate poetry, but I liked yours.”
“And what would you do?” I ask.
He shrugs. “Nothing important. I just wanted to be close to you.”
I see Riley’s hand lying on the grass. Before I can stop myself, I’ve taken it in my own. I noticed that his palm and even fingers are covered with rough callouses. Riley looks surprised, but he doesn’t pull away. He shivers slightly.
“I thought you never get cold,” I remind him.
“No,” he says. “I said you always get cold.”
“I feel pretty warm right now,” I say.
Before he can reply, I move closer to him, nuzzling against his chest and arm. Whatever else I can say, this feels really right. I fit perfectly here, in his arms, especially when he gently envelops my shoulders.
Riley leans forward and kisses me on the forehead. “Maggie…” he whispers. It’s such a chaste, sweet kiss. It shows such restraint on his part.
And then a minute later, he’s kissing my lips, all trace of restraint now gone. And God forgive me, I’m kissing him back, and then we collapse together onto the cold, damp grass. He’s running his hands through my hair, struggling to touch my body through two layers of coats. Part of me can’t believe this is happening and part of me feels like this is incredibly familiar.
“Oh, Maggie,” he breathes. “I missed you so much…”
Since my accident, I’ve been cringing at the thought of Walt touching me, but I want Riley to touch me everywhere. I want him to rip my clothes off and ravish me right here on the grass, under the clear blue sky. I can’t wait another second. I can’t… I can’t…
I can’t do this.
I pull away from Riley, breathing hard. His face is flushed and his glasses are askew on his nose. “What’s wrong?” he gasps.
“I can’t,” I say, and my voice breaks. “I can’t cheat on my husband.”
But he’s cheating on you! a voice in my head cries out.
“Oh,” Riley says, still breathing hard. He pauses, as if trying to absorb the situation. “Okay.” He rolls off me and rubs his face with his hands. “Shit. I need a cold shower.”
I grab his hand again. “I’m really sorry.”
“It’s okay, I understand,” he says. He squeezes my hand. “I’ll drive you home, okay?”
“Just… give me a minute.”
I look down and notice that he has a sizable erection. “So you can have sex? Normal sex?”
“Normal is a relative term,” he says. “But yes. I can have sex.”
“But you said…” My face feels hot again. “You know, about not feeling anything…”
“Yeah, I can’t feel it,” he says. “But it still works, more or less.”
“So you and I…?”
“Yes,” he confirms. “We had sex. Many times.”
“And it was good?”
Riley cocks his head. “The noises you made would indicate that you thought so, yes.”
Noises? I’m usually very quiet during sex. Walt had even made a few disparaging comments to that effect. Something along the lines of asking if I’d died. “That doesn’t sound like me.”
He finally smiles. “Well, maybe you’d just never had good sex before?”
I know what he’s doing. He’s teasing me, trying to make me want him more. But it won’t work. Because there’s no fucking way I could possibly want anyone as much as I want him right now.
We lie in the grass for a while, not really talking but just holding hands. Riley holds my hand firmly in his, as if he’s afraid I might run away. It’s already almost dusk by the time I tell him I need to get home. “I’ll drive you,” Riley offers again.
“Let me just text Jill to let her know,” I say. I grab my phone and write to my best friend: Don’t wait for me. Catching a ride with someone else. I don’t mention Riley, of course. I know she’s not crazy about him. I know she thinks I should work things out with Walt.
Riley’s car is parked right in front of our office building, in one of the handicapped spots right by the entrance. He has a wheelchair symbol on his license plate, to ensure permanent access to the handicapped spots. I’d never known anyone before who was allowed to park in a handicapped spot. But he needs that extra couple of feet of room to transfer into his car. He pops the wheels off his chair and tosses it in the back seat.
I climb into the car next to Riley, and see he has his hand on a gear right between us. “You drive a stick?” I ask.
He looks at me in surprise. “Hand controls.”
“That’s okay. You said the same thing before.”
“Are you serious? I was that stupid twice?”
Riley laughs. “I forgive you.” He gets serious for a minute. “Just… do the right thing tonight. With Walt.”
Riley can’t attempt to hold my hand on the way home because he’s got his right hand working the controls. At some point, he absently turns on the radio, to a local pop station. Katy Perry’s “California Gurlz” comes on the radio.
“This is our song, you know,” he says.
“California Gurlz is our song?” I gasp, horrified. Even though I can’t remember the last three years, I’ve already managed to hear this song like five hundred times. “This is the stupidest song ever.”
“No way, you love this song,” he says. “Especially the part where Snoop Dogg starts rapping.”
“It’s true,” he insists. “You are a huge Snoop Dogg fan. Trust me.”
I’m pretty sure I’m not and that he’s messing with me, but I’m not absolutely positive so I keep my mouth shut.
When we get back to my house, I’m shocked to see that Walt’s car is already in the driveway. How is he home so early? “He’s here,” I breathe, feeling my heart speed up. I shut off the radio.
“Shit,” Riley says. “I better go.”
“Remember,” he says. “You can stay with me tonight if you have to.”
I’m shaking a little as I go down the walkway to my front door. Without Riley’s jacket on, I shiver, but I’m not entirely sure it’s due to the cold. I shove my key in the lock and enter my home, which has become at least a little more familiar to me recently.
Walt is in the other room, but I immediately see the roses on the coffee table. A dozen of them. They’re beautiful.
I wring my fists together. He must know I found out. He came home early and bought me flowers. Jill obviously tipped him off. She’s trying to save my marriage, although it’s not clear to me that it’s worth saving.
Walt rushes into the foyer, looking anxious and very handsome. Let’s face it, he’s much better looking than Riley. Even wheelchair aside and Riley being half a dozen years younger, Walt’s got the edge. But taking Riley’s disability into account, Walt basically blows him away. No woman in her right mind would choose Riley over Walt.
Walt’s face breaks out into a grin when he sees me, which is only a little bit fake. He rushes to the coffee table and picks up the flowers. “I got you something, Margaret.”
He hands me the flowers, which are even more beautiful close up. I instinctively lower my nose to smell them. “Thank you,” I say. Then I add, “You’re home early.”
“I can’t come home early to see my wife?”
“You can. But you don’t.”
Walt’s shoulder sag. “Okay, fine. Let’s not bullshit each other. Jill called me and told me you were upset at me. That you found out about my previous infidelity.”
In a way, it’s a relief he brought it up first. But now that it’s out there, we have to deal with it. Of course, it doesn’t escape my notice that he calls it previous infidelity when I found lipstick on his collar this very morning.
“Let’s sit down,” Walt says, guiding me to the sofa with his hand. The second his fingers touch me, I practically jump out of my skin. He notices, but doesn’t say anything.
We face each other on the couch. Walt tries to reach for my hand and I pull away. “Margaret,” he says. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth sooner. Yes, I was unfaithful to you. Once. Over a year ago. And you forgave me. I was just hoping… you’d forget.”
I forgot all right. I forgot that and a lot of other things.
“It was the stress of trying to make a baby,” he says. “We both wanted it so badly. Especially you. And then when the doctor told you that you were infertile—”
“What?” This is one part of the story I hadn’t heard yet.
A sad look comes over Walt’s face. “The doctor told you that your tubes were completely blocked and that your uterus looked like… well, his words were ‘a battle zone.’ He said the chances of you ever conceiving were very remote. Zero chance without medical intervention.”
My eyes fill up with tears for the second time today. I knew we’d had trouble conceiving but I didn’t know this part. That I’m infertile. I’ll never have a baby. Never.
“You were so depressed,” Walt recalls. “We were so depressed. It killed me, Margaret. So I did something incredibly stupid. I started seeing another woman.”
I’m infertile and my husband is a cheater. This is the best day ever.
“She meant nothing to me, I swear,” he says. “You’re the one I love, Margaret. And when you found out, I promised I’d never do it again. And I haven’t.”
It’s a convincing story. But he left out one important detail. “Then why did you have lipstick on your collar from yesterday?”
“Yes, that.” Walt nods. “Well, in my field, there’s some pressure to appear… youthful. And now that I’m 42, I’m feeling that pressure. So I went out and bought some… concealer. The clerk talked me into a rose-tinted shade, because she said it would make me appear healthier. That’s what you saw on my collar.”
I’m skeptical, to say the least.
“I can show it to you if you’d like,” he offers.
If Walt was hoping I’d simply take him at his word, he was very wrong. He goes upstairs to the master bathroom and returns a minute later with a container of rose-colored concealer. Just like he said.
“I’m not cheating on you, Margaret,” he says. “I swear to you.”
I want to believe him. I do. He’s my husband. But something doesn’t sit right and I realize what it is: his story doesn’t mesh with Riley’s. So either Riley is a liar or he is. And I can’t just sit here, being told potential lies. I have to get to the bottom of the truth. “Listen,” I say. “Riley told me we stopped trying for a baby because you were cheating on me.”
Walt’s face darkens and I realize instantly that I’ve made a huge mistake by mentioning Riley’s name. “Oh, really?” he says. “Is that what Riley told you?”
I freeze, not sure how to respond.
“Because he’s just so trustworthy, isn’t he?” Walt shakes his head. “Why are you even talking to that guy? Didn’t I tell you he was full of shit? I thought you knew better than that.”
I press my hands into my lap. “I don’t think he’s full of shit.”
Walt throws his head back and laughs. “This is unbelievable, Margaret. Honestly. The guy has been stalking you for a year, and now he’s trying to use your memory loss to take advantage of you. And it’s working—that’s the unbelievable part. What other lies has he been feeding you?”
I keep my mouth shut. I know anything I say at this point will just make him angrier.
“Trust me,” Walt says. “That guy is lying to you. He was harassing you for over a year and wouldn’t listen when you repeatedly told him to leave you alone. Jill will tell you the same thing.”
I just stare at him.
“You don’t believe me,” Walt acknowledges. “You know, that’s fine. But I hope you at least believe yourself. About three months ago, you filed a complaint against him with Human Resources. For stalking you.”
No, that couldn’t be true. Could it? “No, I didn’t.”
“You did,” he says. “I promise you. Go ahead and check. Go to HR and find the report.”
I just don’t believe it. Riley can’t be lying. This must be some elaborate scam on Walt’s part. Maybe he planted the HR complaint. That’s all I can think of.
“You still don’t believe me,” Walt snorts. “You still think that gimp is your knight in shining armor.” He stands up from the couch. “I don’t want to be in the house with you if that’s really what you think.”
“Walt…” I stand up, as if to stop him from leaving. But the truth is, I’m not sure if I want him to leave or not.
“I’m leaving,” Walt says. He grabs his coat from the closet by the front door and shoves his arms roughly into the sleeves. I wonder if Walt would offer me his coat on a cold day. “If you wake up tomorrow and realize what a liar that guy is, you can give me a call.”
I jump as he slams the door behind him. My fingers twitch, aching to grab my phone, and call Riley. I don’t even know where he lives, but I know if I call, he’ll be here in minutes, and he’ll make me forget about Walt, his cheating, and my failed attempts to conceive. But at the same time, I realize that he’s a stranger. And at this moment, I’m not certain I trust him any more than I trust my husband.
The next morning, when Jill picks me up, I can tell she wants to press me for details about what happened last night. “Did Walt confess?” she asks as she pulls out of my driveway.
“He said it was just one time, a year ago,” I say. “He says he’s not seeing anyone right now.” I search Jill’s face. “Do you believe that?”
“I do,” she says thoughtfully. “I think Walt loves you a lot and I don’t think he’d lie to you.”
“Well, he did lie to me,” I point out. “He cheated on me. Isn’t that lying by definition?”
“It was a rough time in your relationship,” Jill says.
I sigh and turn away from her, watching the houses pass by in the window. “There’s something else,” I say. “Walt claims I reported Riley Samuels for stalking me.”
“Yes, you did.”
I turn back to face Jill. “Are you serious?”
“Yes!” Jill honks at a stationary car not responding to a green light. “He was stalking you. It was so inappropriate. So you placed a complaint to get him to stop.” She cocks her head at me. “I hope you haven’t still been talking to him, Maggie.”
“No,” I lie. I lean back in my seat, feeling antsy all of a sudden. “Can you drop me off at HR instead of my office?”
I’m afraid Jill is going to read me a riot act like Walt for not believing her, but instead she just gives me this pitying look, and says, “Okay.”
The HR office isn’t far from my own. I became very familiar with the office over the years, and I was quite enamored with Heidi, who usually worked the front desk. She was in her late fifties, round like a ball, and a smile that lights up any room, especially the HR room. I was afraid to ask Jill if Heidi still works there, since a lot can happen in three years. But I’m relieved that when I walk inside, Heidi is right where she always is.
“Hi, Heidi,” I say.
“Maggie!” Her face lights up when she sees me. “How are you?”
“Fine,” I lie. Because what else am I supposed to say? “And you?”
“My daughter is pregnant,” Heidi boasts. “I’m going to be a grandma!”
“Oh,” I say, my smile faltering.
Heidi notices my expression and says, “You’ll be next, Maggie. I just know it.”
I don’t bother to tell her how wrong she is. “I’m looking for a report I filed a few months ago. About Riley Samuels?”
I’ve got my fingers crossed that Heidi will tell me she has no clue what I’m talking about, but instead, she nods her head. “Of course, Maggie. Let me get that for you.”
Heidi waddles over to the file cabinet and pulls out a folder. She rifles through it and removes a single two-page form. I already recognize my own handwriting on the form. “Here it is,” she says. “I can’t give it to you, but would you like me to make a copy?”
I nod, feeling a lump rise in my throat. Walt was right. I can’t believe it.
Heidi runs the report through the copy machine, then hands me the copy. I look down at my own writing, feeling sickened by the words on the page:
Dr. Samuels came to my office every day despite repeatedly being told I didn’t want to see him…
…groped me inappropriately during a staff function…
…acted overly familiar…
“Terrible, isn’t it?” Heidi says. “And Dr. Samuels seems so nice. I never would have guessed.”
“Me either,” I murmur.
To be continued.....