Gabriella Ch. 04bysoular©
Patricia focused on the untouched bread but the image of Simon's guilt ridden face stayed with her. "Since I found the condoms in your office I just haven't been in a talkative mood lately. Sorry. Maybe I should look on the bright side and be grateful you used protection."
Their waiter strolled up to the table, oblivious to the tension in the air. "And what can I get for you today?" he asked in a chipper tone.
Neither of them took a breath.
"...or if you're not ready, I can come back in a bit." He glanced between them. "Yeah, I'll come back."
"Patricia, I—I don't know what to say right now." Simon buried his face into his hands and then pushed them through his hair.
Although in her heart she already knew, but to hear him actually confirm it...
"Tell me, how does this work?" Patricia asked. She rubbed her temples and looked around the restaurant. A woman like her mother might have screamed and thrown objects, but her body felt like it weighed a ton. Even her eyelids were heavy.
"I don't know." He sounded lost. "I'm so sorry. It kills me to know that I hurt you. Please know that. I just—" He shook his head and stared out the window.
"Hi, are you guys ready?" the waiter asked when he returned.
"We'll just pay for the drinks and leave. We've suddenly lost our appetite." Patricia explained, managing to sound calm somehow. Simon grabbed his wallet and handed several bills to the waiter.
"Oh, no problem. Have a nice day," he said, smiling at the generous tip. "Come see us again."
They drove back to her office in silence. The short distance came as a blessing because she couldn't bear to be this close to him.
Simon grabbed her arm as she pressed on the seat buckle. "What can I do to make this better? Just tell me. Anything and I will."
Can you turn back time?
"Stop seeing her." Patricia couldn't believe she even had to speak those words. This couldn't be her life. Everything had seemed so bright for her at least before college. High school had been the last time she had felt completely sure about herself.
He looked forward. "I did."
"About a month ago."
"It's true," Simon countered right away, his tone adamant.
She should have stopped while she was ahead, but she had to know what lay inside this Pandora's Box. "Is she a student?"
"A current one?"
He sighed and dropped his head against the steering wheel.
"How old is she, Simon?"
"Almost twenty." He sounded embarrassed to admit it.
"Nineteen..." Patricia said to herself as the car next to them reversed out the parking lot. "Same age as Ella."
"Goddamn it. Sorry, I didn't mean to say that, I just can't—can't fucking— I'm sorry Patricia, so sorry." He got out of the car and slammed the door.
The numbness crept back over her again, narcotizing her senses. Maybe now she could concentrate on Sam's Excel document. Yeah, she would focus on that to get through the day. Each cell would receive her undivided attention as she turned in the most flawless report possible.
Simon called her name as she hurried into the building but she didn't look back. **********
Simon knew this day would come. He had even prepared for it on occasion. The day when Patricia would find out. The day his life would turn upside down and he'd be forced to see himself for who he was. A lousy husband and a poor excuse for a stepfather.
Her words played back over and over in his mind. Condoms. What an awful way for her to find out. And he thought he had been so careful not to keep any in the house. He tried to imagine how he would have felt were the roles reversed. How did Patricia manage to stay so calm? As much as he dreaded seeing her cry, her reaction made him feel worse. He deserved as much.
He wasn't sure how long he had sat in the driveway, but Gabriella peeked from behind the curtains twice before coming outside.
"You know the kitchen, bed and TV are all inside, right?" she yelled out with a smile, rubbing her hands over her arms. He watched as she walked around the car to the passenger side.
As always she was sporting something revealing. Never mind that winter was approaching and it was freezing cold out. This particular outfit consisted of a thin blue tank top sans bra and a pair of black cotton short shorts with luv me written on the back in hot pink and colorful tube socks pulled up to her knees. She screamed college girl in that moment, making him feel even shittier. Shitty because of what he had done to Patricia and his marriage and shitty because once again, Gabriella had managed to turn him on. And right now was not the time he wanted the little head thinking for the big one and that pissed him off.
She tried to open the door but it was still locked. She softly tapped on the window. For a moment he had thought of letting her stand out there and freeze. But when she rubbed her hands over her arms again, he felt like a jerk.
She jumped in when he unlocked the door.
"Jeez, it's really cold today," she stated, turning the heat on full blast.
"Well it is late fall if you haven't noticed. I know it's hard for you, but you might try dressing accordingly."
"Jesus, what the hell is your problem?"
He turned to her and pulled off his sunglasses. "You really want to know the answer to that?"
"You. You're my fucking problem," he snapped. Anger and lust, resentment and desire consumed him when he was with her. It all bubbled beneath the surface, ready to pour out.
"What? What did I do?" She looked hurt.
"Knows what? I don't—oh." Her voice tapered out.
"Does she know it's me?" she asked, while she fidgeted with a string at the top of her sock.
Simon squeezed his forehead. "No."
"Then don't worry, Simon, it'll all be okay."
He let out a dry chuckle and shook his head as the hot air stung his eyes. "See, that right there? You amaze me. What the fuck makes you think it will be okay?"
"Because I've lived with her for damn near twenty years. She will ignore it and push it aside until it blows over."
"Is that how she handled your trouble making all these years?"
"No. It's how she handled me."
"Well forgive me, but I don't want my wife acting like I barely exist. Maybe you can live that way, but I can't."
"It's not really a choice I had, Simon. It's just the way things were."
He turned to her. "Is that what this is all about? Our affair? Was it just you getting back at your mom?"
"What?" she asked, her eyebrows drawn.
He had struck a sensitive spot, but at the moment he could give a shit. His life was falling apart while Gabriella marched around without a care in the world.
"You heard me. Everything you did, was it despite her?" Sweat dampened his neck.
"You are being a complete asshole right now. Look, I'm sorry she found out and that you're upset, but you don't have to take it out on me. And I think I would have to actually know my mother to want to do anything despite her. We share looks but are strangers, Simon, don't forget that. This has nothing to do with her! This was about you and me." She folded her arms and turned her head.
"It's never been just you and me."
"Well, that doesn't even matter because we're not together anymore."
"We never were together, Gabriella. You keep forgetting that." Every word he uttered hit their mark. He felt it. He wanted to stop, but he needed someone to feel worse than him.
"You know what? Fuck you! You want to be pissed at me for your failing marriage? I could have told you it would never work years ago." She opened the car door and stood up before leaning back through. "You're in love with a ghost. That girl you met all those years ago in college doesn't exist anymore. She's gone. Life disappointed her Simon and this is who you married. I just can't believe it took you three fucking years to figure that out!"
"You don't know shit about being married. It's more than running around in short skirts and fucking every boy you can wrap your legs around."
Her mouth dropped. "I hate you! God, I wish I'd never lo—liked you!"
"Likewise," he said as she slammed the door.
The glassiness in her eyes tugged at his conscience before she stormed into the house.
Could this day get any worse?
Patricia retreated to the bedroom and spent the evening buried in a book. Only a brief hello had escaped her lips since she'd gotten home, not that Simon expected anything more when he got into bed with her. At least she didn't kick him out. That had to be a good sign.
"What are you reading?" he asked, hoping to drown out the guilty silence.
She turned the cover toward him. "Song of Solomon," she said in an emotionless voice. "Have you ever read it?"
He shook his head. "Toni Morrison? No, I never read that. But a professor of mine back in college wanted us to read several Pulitzer winning novels, so I did read Beloved. It was...interesting."
His heart warmed with relief when she smiled. She really was a beautiful woman. Definitely a prize. And maybe she had changed since they had first met, but his feelings for her hadn't. No, they didn't share the same fiery sex that he and Gabriella did, but what he had with Patricia was special, something that couldn't wane over time. With Gabriella, it was strictly sex. In the end it meant nothing more than a quick, euphoric muscle spasm.
"Goodnight," she whispered as she turned off her bedside lamp, flooding them into darkness.
"Goodnight." Simon lay there thinking about his life. All of the decisions he had made that led him to this point. Leaving New York at eighteen and moving to North Carolina. Meeting Patricia. Meeting Gabriella. He still felt horrible for the way he treated her earlier. As usual, he was pissed at himself and took it out on her. She didn't deserve that. Neither one of them deserved how he had been treating them.
Euphoric muscle spasm...
Simon squeezed his eyes shut. It went deeper than that. Gabriella had worked her way underneath his skin, moving through his veins like a form of heroine. The further he tried to push her away, the stronger the need to have her became. And it went beyond issues in the bedroom.
She got him. Plain and simple. She laughed at his dry sarcasm and made a big deal of his little accomplishments. She never held back, whether she was happy or sad. When he pissed her off, she would smack him and when she was proud she would jump on him, damn near knocking him to the ground.
He remembered her words in the car. She was ignored most of her life and her personality had developed from that— loud and big to get any attention she could. Only it didn't work. At least not with Patricia, who had been too busy working, according to Gabriella. Or with Rodney, who had bailed on them. But it had with him, all too well. But now this nightmare of deceit he created was almost over. Only one more detail of this sordid affair that Patricia didn't know about. If she ever found out, their marriage wouldn't last a day longer.
He wrapped his arm around her, hoping she wouldn't push him away as he pulled her in close. A hint of Jasmine warmed his insides.
His arms relaxed when she made no attempt to move away. This was his wife and he wasn't ready to give her up. He was a fighter, had been all his life and he would continue to fight this urge for Gabriella for Patricia's sake. Life had hurt her so much already. He could be a better husband, a better man for her.
"Maybe we could get away for a little while? Just leave everything behind and talk."
He felt her gaze on him when she rolled over. "Where did you have in mind?"
"I don't know. Maybe that ski resort that Pete and Liz recommended. That seemed nice and it's close enough to drive up and back for a weekend. I could make reservations tomorrow if you're up to it. What do you say?"
"I don't know Simon." She turned over, facing away from him.
"I understand." He fell back against his pillow and stared up at the ceiling. He wanted a fresh start for them, but she needed time. No matter how long it took, he would wait until she felt comfortable about whatever she decided.
"I do kind of need a break from everything," she said. "Maybe this weekend?"
Simon closed his eyes and exhaled. "This weekend is perfect. I'll make reservations first thing in the morning."
Simon pulled her into him again. "I love you." She tensed beneath him. "You don't have to say it back. I just wanted you to know that I never stopped loving you."
Her hand slid over his. Simon closed his eyes and prayed that this trip would make a difference. **********
Ella scribbled in her notebook as Simon droned on about some lost culture that had been dead over thousands of years. She used to listen in awe of how much he knew when they'd lain in bed, their limbs entwined, while he recounted the love stories of past kings and queens. She squeezed her legs together to squelch the wet fire as the memories washed over her.
But she was still hurt from their argument yesterday afternoon. She hadn't spoken to him since then. Even that morning, Nolan had picked her up for school so she wouldn't have to face Simon.
"Am I boring you, Miss Foster?"
Ella looked up to find Simon and half the class looking at her. She quickly glanced around before leveling her eyes on him. When he wasn't outright ignoring her, he would make snide comments in front of everyone. She wasn't sure if he did it for fear of people linking them together or if he really just liked being an asshole to her. Lately, she was beginning to think it was the latter.
Normally she would have engaged in some sort of verbal combat with hidden sexual undertones, but today she felt drained.
She shook her head and opened her text book.
"Thanks," Simon said. "Now if you all will look at the timeline on page 117, you'll see that..."
Ella looked back at Nolan. She smiled when he tried to quickly look away. She still wasn't quite sure where he fit into her life, but she had begun to enjoy his company.
She turned back around to find Simon glancing between the two of them. She rolled her eyes and focused on the page. Truthfully, she'd be glad when this semester was over. She had added his class to mess with him, but it exhausted her to watch and listen to the man she wanted yet could never have. But pretending not to care when every fiber of her being wanted to scream to the world how he made her feel in those quick stolen moments, had taken its toll.
Today Ella had become just another student. A nobody.
When Simon wrapped up class, Nolan bounded down the steps and picked up her book bag.
"What are you doing tonight?" he asked.
"I don't know."
"We should hang out."
"Maybe," Ella said as they walked down the aisle.
He smiled at her. "I could cook for you."
Ella laughed. "You? Cook?"
"Hey, I know some good Ramen noodle recipes. Plus, I could—"
"Miss Foster, may I have a word with you?" Simon interrupted.
Ella looked at Nolan and then him. "What do you want?"
"In private," Simon answered, narrowing his eyes at her. When Nolan didn't budge, Simon turned his glare to him.
"Do you mind giving us a second, Nolan?" Simon said in a low voice.
Ella watched the subtle stare down, before Nolan handed her the backpack.
"Sure," he said to Simon then turned to Ella. "I'll wait for you by my car."
Ella smiled at him before he turned and walked out. But Cory, the ever present class nerd was still gathering his books.
Simon exhaled and pinched the bridge of his nose as Cory approached.
"So, Professor Graham, will you have any type of tutorial before the final?"
"Yes, Cory, I will. More than likely the two Thursdays before the test. I'll send an email about it."
"Cool, thanks," he said as he scurried out of the room.
"That kid, I swear..." Simon said, shaking his head.
"Why did you call me out today? There were other people not paying attention," she said.
Simon stared at her for a moment before he answered. "I know. But I don't care if those kids pass or fail my class. Plus, if you paid a little more attention, you would have higher than a C."
Ella shifted her feet. "Whatever. What do you want?" He usually gave her a hard time for saying 'whatever' to him. He hated that. But he looked just as tired as she felt.
"Your mom and I are spending the weekend away. Going to try to patch up our relationship," he said, leaning against his desk with his hands in his pockets.
Ella stood there staring at him, not sure what to say. Was he expecting her to be happy about it?
"Okay," she finally said, before turning to leave.
"Wait a second," he said, lightly grabbing her hand. She looked down at their connection before he quickly pulled away. "I...I just wanted to tell you that I'm sorry for how I behaved yesterday. I was being an asshole and you didn't deserve that."
"Don't worry about it. I'm used to it."
"So...if there's nothing else, I have to go. Nolan's waiting on me."
"That's all," he said softly as he packed up his belongings. Ella walked out of the classroom, each step, a step further and further away from Simon. **********
The drive up to Blue Ridge wove through a forest. Patricia didn't rush to her destination. Time lost all meaning whenever she drove. Each mile took her further away from her worries until it was just her and the open road. The highways and back roads had always brought her peace when she needed it most and so the forty minute commute stretched into an hour.
In an effort to save time, she and Simon had decided to drive up separately straight from work instead of meeting at home first. Patricia couldn't imagine driving here together and avoiding their huge problems with small talk, especially after the week she'd had.
Simon was waiting for her in the lobby and had already checked them in when she arrived. Patricia removed her scarf as she took in the view from their suite. The sun was beaming high, glistening off the powder white snow. The breathtaking scenery almost made her forget the reason why they had come here. Almost...
She reluctantly turned from the window when he came barreling through the door with the last of their luggage.
"Do you like?" he asked as he set the small suitcases on the floor.
"Yes, I like. This is so nice. Now I feel bad we canceled on Liz and Pete to come up here."
Simon smiled. "Just imagine a two hour dose of Liz and you'll get over it."
Patricia laughed. "Point taken," she said, admiring the view again. She heard him approaching from behind her. She waited to see if he would touch her, but he didn't.
"So, what do you want to do first?"
She turned around and leaned against the sliding glass door. "Hmm, maybe I'll try my hand at skiing."
Simon scoffed. "Honey, I don't think we have enough medical coverage."
She feigned hurt has she swatted his arm. "I'll show you."
Two hours and four bruises later Patricia gave up. After barely making it to the bottom of the kiddie slope, she lay in the snow too tired to move.
"Are you okay?" Simon asked, a laugh bubbling beneath his question. He sat down beside her, and unlatched her boots.
"All the flyers make it look so easy," she huffed.
"Bastards," Simon muttered.
Patricia dreaded the silence that followed. When there were no distractions, they were both left to only think about the things unsaid. She knew they would have to have 'the talk' but she wanted more time. How could she ever be prepared to hear why her husband had turned to another woman? Why she wasn't good enough?