A New and Delicate Balance Ch. 08byangiquesophie©
Eric turned to leave and his back told me all there was to know.
A voice can say "No" or even shout "NO!!" And still you may wonder if there isn't a small yes in there. Especially when the "no" sounds so intense. But when a back turns on you there is no room for doubt. There was none for me when Eric rose, turned and walked out on me.
What had I been thinking?
How could I have been so stupid to suggest it had all been a dream? Just because I had decided it better be? Maybe at first I was in a dreamy state. I am certain I was. But that was not the moment I betrayed him, was it?
I could have said "no" to Phil when his voice woke me. I should have. Of course he would not have taken that for an answer. Not Phil. After all these years of flirting and making passes, I should have known to kick him in the balls.
But I didn't, did I?
I just pretended to be asleep. I even kept pretending when he talked to me. But I was wide-awake when he licked me into that first bombshell orgasm. That is when my betrayal started. I took his cock in my mouth. I gave him gladly what Eric and I had lovingly taught each other. All of it. All the feeling. All the emotion and the intimacy.
And it wasn't "just sex".
I am not a woman who does "just sex". Sex is part of me, of who I am. I gave myself to him, not just my body. I enjoyed him and not just allowed him to have me. I made very sure that he'd get all of me. That he would enjoy me as much as Eric did. And even more.
Only after I got caught, I returned to my senses. No, that's another lie and another betrayal. I never left my senses. I never had to return to them. I just covered everything up. I tried to be as clever as the bastard. I moved my true self away from Eric to protect my betrayal. I stole myself from him, I robbed him of myself.
Tell me, which is the greater betrayal, the fucking or the denial?
But I am not a good bastard, am I? I guess I'd love to be, but I lack the talent and the guts. I can't live with it and go on. In the end I make quite a sorry bastard.
So I collected all my courage to meet my twice betrayed lover. I was scared. I needed so much for him to understand. Maybe not so much as to take me back, but enough to make him understand how sorry I am. For yes, I am sorry. Maybe for all the wrong reasons, but I do hate what I have done. To Eric, to myself and to the child inside me. Even to Mary, my one-time best friend.
I needed to understand what happened and why. Why? Could I tell him why? Did I even know why? In the end I could not even tell him the "what". I lied to him once more.
A dream, Eric, I said. I could not help it, I said. He seduced me while I was asleep. And when I woke, it was too late, Eric. My body had taken over. I am so sorry, Eric. But it wasn't me. I did not want it! Truly!
Such damn bullshit. I should have known that he is too much of a man to fall for that. Shame on me.
I guess this is it. I blew it. And then I fucked up again. I have to accept it. Gather the shards of my broken life and try to glue them together. If I'm lucky the new life might give me some shelter. For me and the damn child. It will be hard, though, with all the missing parts.
Like, where does one find a roof?
I have been living with my parents, these few days. They live in Brooklyn in a big rambling old house. There's room enough, even with the baby. But I can't stay there. I can't be their little daughter again. They try so very hard to make it easy for me. But I can't.
I am an asshole, not a sweet daughter.
I can't go to Mary, either. It would be too painful, even though she does not know about me and her husband. It might even be less painful if she did.
Which brought me to the question I had not asked myself until now. Strange that I had not. It was the question how Eric could know? Only Phil and I knew. There had been nobody else, had there?
Phil must have told Eric, the bastard. Just to brag and gloat and triumph. Damn asshole, but who is calling whom an asshole? Of course it was Phil who told Eric. I should have known. It was the eternal fight for the top of the ape colony. Boom-boom, chest banging. "Me Phil, you Wimp."
And all because of me, stupid silly selfish moron slut.
I looked at a few nice small apartments on Manhattan and decided on one close to work. Insanely expensive, but well, I'll work hard anyway. What else is there to do? Work until my belly stops me. And after the child is born? We'll see. Grand parents? Daycare?
I got my future carved out for me. Or into me, rather.
I never saw him until he already sat beside me. Phil. He looked impeccable. Blue suit, tie, smile.
"Mary left me," he said.
"Don't do this, Phil. Please leave," I said.
I hated the blush that flashed up from my chest.
"I don't care that she left," Phil went on, his smile in place. "So much better this way."
I rose, intending to go. But he put his hand over mine.
"Don't," he said. His voice had an iron quality. Steel in velvet. "Don't leave without hearing me out, Irene."
I sat down.
"Irene, I have always wanted you. Ever since we met I knew I had to have you. I married Mary only to be near you."
I tried to pull my hand out of his. He is strong.
"Irene, I know that you always felt attracted to me."
My eyebrows flew up in amazement. I tried to interrupt, but his fingertips were on my lips.
"Sssssh...I know, Irene. You always stopped my advances. But there are no's and no's, Irene. You know it. You know how you hesitated at times. You were such a tease, girl. But in the end I was right and you know it!"
A flash of triumph lit up his cold blue eyes. I had succeeded in pulling away my hand. I rose, grabbed my purse and left the place in a hurry.
My heart surely must have been heard throughout the restaurant.
Work was a blessing. At least for me it was. I must have been a monster for the people around me. Especially the ones working with me. I never stopped. I came in an hour early, worked through lunch hour and left with the cleaners.
I never felt so energetic. It was easy to concentrate. There are preciously little distractions left after you burn all your ships. I grabbed every opportunity to travel. Many colleagues with spouses and happy families were glad to let me do it for them.
A few weeks flew by this way. Phil kept calling me, I never responded. In a way I was glad he did, as each call eroded more of the embarrassed attraction that still seemed to tug on me.
The one I wanted to call never did.
I did not have the heart to phone him. He was always in my thoughts. There were too many little things to remind me of him. I had put away all the jewelry he gave me. Even all the things we had bought together.
He had sent me an e-mail, but it was totally impersonal. He gave me a time-slot to get my things from the apartment. Dad helped me. It was an ordeal I tried to work through as quickly as I could. I'm sure I left a lot behind. I did not care. It was just too painful to see what we had. And what I threw away.
Then Mary called. Her voice sounded hoarse, guarded.
"I feel so sorry."
"Why would you, Mary?"
"I feel sorry for what happened."
"Thank you. So do I."
"I left Phil."
"He told me."
"You talked to him?"
"He talked to me."
"Could we meet, Irene?"
"There are things you don't know."
"I know enough, Mary."
"No, you don't."
"Please. Let's talk, Irene."
"I'd rather not."
"Okay. But don't accuse me. I can do that myself."
"I won't, I promise."
Mary looked gaunt. Her skin was pale, her eyes deeply sunk. Her lips were painted a very dark blood red. She'd colored her hair too. It was a glossy black. It made for a very dramatic framing. When she walked into the bar, she moved like a cat. The black silk suit seemed glued to her body. The boots she wore had very high heels.
I had never seen her like this.
I stood to shake her hand, but she hugged me. I noticed bones. She must have lost a lot of weight.
I avoided her lips. We sat down.
"You, eh...look good," I said.
"So do you. Pregnancy becomes you, honey."
I sucked in my breath. The subject of pregnancy always seemed to do that to me, of late.
"Anyway," I said. "You needed to talk."
My question made her eyes stray. A waitress came to our table. We ordered wine. We were silent until it came. Her dark nails touched the glass. I sipped from mine and felt my memory return to the last time we drank white wine together on that damn terrace.
"Well?" I said, shaking off the memory.
"First let me tell you how sorry I am for what happened."
I raised my hand.
"First let me tell you it is silly for you to be sorry, Mary. Phil and I did this to you and Eric. We did it willingly and I don't want to discuss it."
"I saw it," she said. Her voice was calm and she had already started talking before I had finished. I almost overheard it.
"Phil planned it all. Then he made me watch."
A buzz invaded my ears. I felt a slight nausea. I set the glass down with a shaking hand.
"You see, Irene, Phil could make me do anything he wanted. I was his submissive. He loved to humiliate me. I accepted it. I could not stand to lose him. I loved him. I guess I still do."
There were tears in the pitch-black corners of her eyes. She let them fall. They made spidery traces on her white cheeks.
"Mary...," I said. My voice trailed away. She looked so very lost. A child. I needed to take her in my arms. But I could not. I was part of her pain. I was part of what caused it.
Mary seemed to grow. She sat straighter. The weakness of her face hardened. Her eyes turned into slits. Her dramatic mouth became a narrow gash.
"I hate you, Irene," she said. "I hate you for taking Phil away from me."
Her hand flew up when I protested.
"Don't deny it, Irene. But don't worry, either. It is not the fucking. The bastard has been screwing a zillion women during our marriage. He even loved to tell me all about it. But you were you, Irene. You were my Irene. I bet you have been fucking him ever since I introduced him to you."
She was trembling. Her fingers strangled the stem of the glass. I did not know what to say. She did.
"And now you took away the child that should be mine!"
Her voice had risen to a higher pitch. Tears ran all over her face now. Her eyes became black craters, her hands were tiny fists. I reached out to cover them with my hands, but she withdrew.
"This was the one and only time, Mary," I whispered. "You must believe me."
Her head started shaking.
"It is true," I said. "It was the only time. And I don't want Phil. I hate him for what he and I did. I hate the two of us for hurting you like this."
Mary cried now. A high moaning tone left her clenched jaws. She shook.
"And, Mary, I truly believe the child is Eric's. I pray it isn't Phil's."
She stood. She grabbed her purse and her glass toppled. The wine spread on the table. I also rose, arms stretched, partly to stop the glass from falling, mostly to keep her from leaving.
"Please, Mary. Stay..."
The door closed on her. She was gone.
Mary's pain killed my sleep for three nights.
I knew all about her wish to have children. And the impossibility to have one. I could see how my pregnancy hurt her. I also saw how the asshole would have loved to tell her all about it. She doted on him. So leaving him must have been very hard. I guess the pain was excruciating enough to push her over the edge.
I was a wreck. Not only had I betrayed the love of my life. I had also cruelly trampled on the profoundest feelings of my lifetime friend. And all that for one short morning's fuck.
Amazing, Irene. Really an accomplishment, girl.
That was when I started pondering to leave. Maybe I should put a few thousand miles between me and the massacre I caused. Eric's first wife had left for California. Who'd ever have thought that I would contemplate a similar move only three years later?
To be more precise, would I have dreamt that I'd do exactly what she's done? I despised her, when I heard the story. I found her behavior disgusting and was so very convinced of my own moral superiority. Would I betray my Eric? My love, my savior?
Now see where I was. What I'd done. See me run. Watch me leave all I considered important.
Oh yes, I loved New York.
But that love was closely linked with Eric. I could walk the streets of Manhattan and within a few blocks I would have found a hundred reasons to cry. There was the corner where he had kissed me in the pouring rain. A shop where we had found the cute table that carried the colorful vase we bought in the small antiques shop only two blocks further on.
I should leave. I should take the hurt and betrayal and leave.
So I investigated my possibilities in the company. There was a position in Los Angeles. I've always hated Los Angeles. I even hate to watch movies or TV shows that use L.A. as a location. But it was far away. And they had a job, even after I told them I was almost four months pregnant. I had hoped they might not have a problem with that.
The product group was for baby-food.
Three days later I got an invitation to have an interview over there. Five days later I got on a plane.
Los Angeles was exactly as horrible as I thought. But maybe it was because I wanted it to be? I don't like cities where you are not supposed to walk. I had to take cabs everywhere. As soon as I could I went to see the beach. It was its own cliché. Roller skaters, iron pumpers. Beverly Hills was like walking into a TV show. The pretty hills with the stars' villas were an exercise in guarded fences.
Ah well...it was the perfect place for punishment.
The job was no problem. I could start in a week. I wouldn't even lose much money. And the sweet HR woman offered me help in finding suitable living quarters.
I flew back to New York to wrap up my life there. I had to tell my parents. They were not amused. I had to move my meager belongings. And I had to say goodbye to friends, family. I went to see my sister in Newark. No point in visiting my brother in Atlanta.
The day before leaving I sat in my empty apartment. It felt exactly as it should. Empty.
I opened my cell phone.
Should I tell Eric? He never contacted me after I got my things from our old home. Not a word about divorce. Not a single word about anything. I had called a few times. He must have seen it was my number. I sent him two e-mails. After that they bounced.
I had also tried to call Mary, but I guess she changed her number.
I was efficiently cut off. I cried. Then I wiped my eyes and sent a short text message to Eric's number.
"Will leave for L.A. tomorrow. New job there. I am so sorry."
I took my suitcase and called for a cab. It took me to a Holiday Inn near La Guardia.
I really slept.
The plane got delayed.
I had arrived at the airport early, but the monitors already flashed my delay. An hour, they said. I went over to check in anyway, pushing my luggage cart. I only saw him when he was already very close. My heart stopped.
It was Eric.
He looked tired and drawn from the obvious loss of appetite. And sleep, no doubt. But he looked great in a tragic way. A familiar throb of excitement hit my throat.
He stopped in front of my cart.
"Will you have coffee with me after you check in?" he asked. His voice was different. So were his eyes.
I just stared.
"Eric," I said.
I cried. He looked away.
The coffee tasted awful. I didn't mind. He just sat there. I could not take my eyes off of him. I saw each little wrinkle, every forgotten stubble.
"You are leaving," he said.
"Are you...all right?"
"All is well."
I knew there would be many silences. It was the only way.
"I...I am glad you came to see me, Eric."
"I did not want to."
I now knew what had changed his eyes. It was pain. I wondered if they mirrored mine.
His eyes shifted away from me, down into his coffee.
A tinny female voice announced more delay. Another half hour. I wondered if he would think the same thing I did. That the delay had a meaning, that it was a sign of sorts. I know. It takes a romantic mind to think that. A bit of a desperate mind, too.
Airports seemed to play such a big part in our lives. The snowstorm at O'Hare that brought us together. Then the shocking return from the business-trip, when he told me he knew. And now...this. What exactly should I call this? Why did he come?
"Eric...why are you here?"
"I need to know before you leave," he said. He pushed away his cup with a disgusted look.
"When I return to the city, I shall be seeing a lawyer. He will start the paperwork for our divorce."
The word hung in the air. It did not seem to go away. A cloud of silence was etched around it. It hung like a neon sign.
"But...," he said, shifting in his chair. "It did not seem right not to hear your side. I know you'll lie as you already did. But I guess I must listen to you."
A flame of panic engulfed me. There was indignity too at being called a liar. But he was right, so why feel offended? I reached out to touch his hand. He pulled it away. A lot of people seemed to do that with me, lately. The air around me felt hot. It closed in on me. There were only his eyes.
"I...I have been stupid to lie to you, Eric. I know you won't ever believe me again because of it. I can see why you want this, this divorce. It is impossible to live with a lie. I know. God, I know."
I feared the silence that slipped in. I hurried now.
"But Eric...I love you."
His head turned away. I guess I screamed.
"I DO!! I betrayed you. I pushed you away. I gave all you gave me to another. And then, in my panic to cover up, I pushed you away again. I built a wall. I denied myself to you. I betrayed you again..."
"Is it his child?" he asked.
His question deflated me. In a way it made me feel hugely disappointed. The child? Somehow it had never played a role in the struggle of my feelings. It was just...there. It was too big a reality to even discuss. It was there, beyond questioning. It did not change things for me, really. Even if it was Phil's. it was mine. It would always be mine.
And I wanted it.
"I don't know, Eric. It is mine."
His eyes flared in surprise.
"You don't care?" he said.
Once more I felt disappointment. Disappointed by the banality of his question. Of course I bloody damn cared. It was the most important thing that ever happened to me. How could he not know that?
"My plane is leaving," I said, sliding off my chair.
His hand made a half hearted try to stop me. Then he also stood.
"Will you..." he said, as I started to push the cart towards the departure area.
"Will you keep me informed on how you are...the baby, you know...all that?"
I turned towards him. His shoulders had slumped. God, he looked helpless. I went to him. I touched his face. His cheeks were wet.
"Eric, please forgive me. I hurt you so much."
I stood on my toes and kissed his cheek.
I hurried away.