A New and Delicate Balance Ch. 05byangiquesophie©
Sometimes the silliest thing can tear up the very fabric of your life. Just like the almost proverbial beat of a butterfly's wing can send its consequences around the earth.
The thing that did me in was quite profane. I saw it on the cover of a law firm's brochure. It was the picture of Lady Justice, the well-known statue of a blindfolded woman holding two scales. On one scale was a book, on the other a sword. The balance was perfect. She had nice tits too.
I love the symbolism. Blind justice, the balance of power and human rights. Of course I am not so naive to suppose that the daily juggling with law in this country is always a guarantee for justice. But it pleases me that they took the trouble to dream up the principle.
Irene has lawyer friends. There is a Phil Mortensen, who does billion dollar corporate law at the firm his father founded. And Mary Eckstein, his wife, who does a lot of pro bono stuff. I guess she feels she should counter the balance.
The picture on the brochure made me think of them. It also made me wonder why we hadn't seen them for such a long time. Irene, my wife, is very close to Mary. They are long time friends. They go all the way back to kindergarten, they are like sisters. I can see why, Mary is a likable girl, pretty too. But why she ever married this Phil may forever be a mystery to me.
He is the slick, cold, easy-going role model of an overpaid corporate ass-saver if you ask me. To begin with it doesn't help that he doesn't have to work for a living. He is rich. Not wealthy, but rich. Philthy rich, as Irene jokes. Which he doesn't like. Shows he is a humorless prick to boot.
I don't know what Mary ever saw in him. He must be cheating on her big time. He even flirts with Irene right in front of her. And even in front of me. Irene says it doesn't mean a thing. I am not so sure. But hey, she knows him forever.
We were at their Long Island home a lot this summer. Posh place in the Hamptons. Big garden, pool, tennis court, you name it. Well, I never complained. Anyone living on Manhattan in summer would be mad to turn down an offer to stay there. We spent quite a few weekends. Sometimes just the two of us, sometimes all four or even more. It had three suites with complete bathrooms and all.
I never felt at ease, though.
Not that I ever told Irene. It must be my humble upbringings. I don't want to seem boorish or even jealous. They are Irene's long time friends. And I like Mary. She is warm and hospitable. I don't want to offend her. She has a calm beauty. Prettiness, rather. Braggarts like Phil would call her mousy. He wouldn't call Mary that, of course. Not to her face at least.
Which gets me to my point. Why hadn't we seen them more often, lately? Sure, they were on a cruise in September. But it was halfway into November now. Irene said they were having problems. Wouldn't surprise me.
I wondered if Irene still saw Mary a lot. She never talked about her. She always used to. And a lot too. Should ask her when she returned from Atlanta.
I didn't like her travelling so much, being pregnant and all. Her bouts of morning sickness had abated by then. My God, was she sick. And almost greenish pale. Thank heaven that was in the past. She looked better. Still a bit withdrawn, but there was a sweet blush when I took her to the airport. Bright eyes, too, at last.
God, did I love her. Wish I could show it more often. She had been so distant, even before she knew she was pregnant. Boy, was she eager in bed during those few weeks. I never saw her as hot as she was then. And yet...she was different, somehow. Hot, eager, yes. But almost...selfish.
Strange. I would never have used a word like that on her. To be sure, it only slipped into my thoughts now. It almost shamed me.
I was sure it will all get better, these coming months. I read somewhere how pregnant women need more sex and tender loving care. Hormone thing, I guessed. Well, I'd be ready.
My phone rang. Or teedeleedeed rather, as these things do nowadays. It was Mary.
First thing I remarked on was the amazing coincidence, but she wasn't in the mood for banter. She sounded nervous.
"Sorry to bother you, Eric, but we have to talk."
"How are you, Mary. Such a long time..."
"Not too well, Eric. When can we get together to talk?"
Wow, she was in a hurry.
"You tell me, girl."
"Now? I am in the city."
Damn. What was going on? The clock said 5 p.m.
"Sure. Starbucks down here?"
She already had hung up. I stared at the phone.
She looked worse than Irene had these months. When I kissed her on the cheek, I felt a tremble.
She sat down, arms tight, knees together, all closed up.
"What is wrong, Mary?" I asked. "You seem very nervous."
"Phil is cheating on me."
What's new, I thought. One look at her face made me regret the thought.
"Of course I knew that", she went on. "I guess even you suspected it. I am not stupid. I knew he fucks women, but they are flings. I ehm...never liked it, but what was I going to do...?"
Her voice died away. She touched her coffee, but did not drink. Her eyes returned to me. Damn, so much hurt.
"This time it's different."
She dug into her purse and handed me a little stack of photographs. I saw a blonde woman on them that I had never seen. She was naked and really into getting fucked by Phil. I saw her sucking his cock. I saw her taking it in her cunt. I saw her taking it up her ass. It was all quite clear and explicit.
"Damn, Mary. I am so sorry..."
She stared at me. I returned the pictures. Why is she telling me this, I wondered. Why show me this now, why not with all the other flings?
"There was a letter too, Eric. She says she is pregnant and the child must be Phil's."
Oh God. The bastard's nailed, I thought. I almost chuckled, but her miserable face stopped me.
"She wanted Phil to pay her off. A million dollars. He seems to have told her to shove it. So she sent me the pics."
I leant back in my chair, watching her, feeling genuinely sorry for her. I sipped my latte.
"As I said, Mary. I am so sorry. But why tell me? How could I possibly help more than just offer a shoulder?"
"I had to tell someone," she said, on the brink of tears. "I like you very much, Eric. I trust you. I know what you went through and I admire how you took it all in stride."
Great. Meet Eric, the expert by experience. The awesome confidant. All ye wronged females run to him. I almost felt gay. I muttered an embarrassed and inaudible response.
A vague notion hit me. Shouldn't this be Irene she was confiding to? Ah well, who understands women?
Mary once again threatened to take a sip and once again thought better of it.
"So what are you going to do, Mary? Did you confront Phil?"
"Yes. He denies it."
I almost choked on the coffee.
"He what?" I gestured at the pictures. "How could he deny those?"
"He doesn't deny the sex. He denies being the father."
"Well. I didn't see a condom. There are a few nice open shots where he is leaking out of her..."
She shrunk visibly from my words. I felt sorry.
"I know," she whispered. "But he denies it. He says: let the bitch take me to court. What do I care?"
Goddammit. This guy really was a bastard. Reckoned that he was untouchable or something. And his wife, her feelings? Tough shit.
"What about his father? The famous founder of the firm? He won't like it?"
"His father is demented. Sitting in his Palm Springs golden cage looking into eternity. No danger there."
"You really think Phil doesn't give a shit? Not about his reputation? Or yours?"
There were tears now. She caught one with a nicely manicured finger. God, did I feel uncomfortable. Let her go see Dr. Phil. (Ah, dammit, even in the privacy of my own mind I could not laugh at that one.)
I rose and pulled my chair next to hers. I took her hands in mine.
"Mary," I said. "Divorce the prick. Tell me you'll divorce him and I'll buy you a drink."
I stood, pulling her up.
"Come, Mary. We both need one."
The second whiskey sour made her tongue slur. I never planned on getting her drunk, but she sure needed it. She is a white wine woman, normally. The typical chardonnay aficionado. It doesn't taint your teeth, you know.
I hugged my scotch and listened. She gushed by now. This Phil was worse than even I suspected. Mary already had a crush on him in high school. She had never been able to shake it, although she had had a million good reasons.
I supposed that Irene must know all about the flings. Mary said no. She had always been too embarrassed to say anything, until now. But she thought Irene was too clever not to suspect. I told her that Irene had indeed sometimes told me that she suspected it. But not on this scale.
We huddled together in a small booth close to the window. It had dampened up, creating a small and cosy world. Her knees were touching mine.
All of a sudden her mouth was engulfing mine. A stunned flash of panic hit me. Her tongue was inside me, finding mine. I was too surprised not to react.
Mary is a great kisser.
I reluctantly pushed her away. I must admit it was slow and half-hearted. Her eyes were misted over, her lip trembled.
"Sorry," she said. Her finger traced my lips to wipe away some of her lipstick. "I needed that, Eric. Please don't be mad."
I wasn't. I told her so. I even said she was a great kisser. It got me her first smile.
"You are a friend," she said. "Would you mind to be my friend?"
I knew her tits were small. I did not know how sensitive they were, though. I had never seen nipples rise so hard that they took their aureoles with them. They felt great, all swollen against my tongue.
She responded with a cascade of high-pitched moans.
Even while my tongue was sliding down her arching chest, I thought: what am I doing? My hand was caressing the spread insides of her thighs and I thought: what the fuck is this? Me, a married man. And look how my greedy tongue is searching for the clit of my pregnant wife's best friend.
I rose. I hung over her flushed face, finding her eyes.
"I can't do this, Mary," I breathed. "I can't do this to Irene. You should understand. Please understand."
I tried to sit up and started to close the buttons on my shirt. But she grabbed my neck and pulled me back to her.
"Forget about her!" she hissed.
I pushed at her, wanting to get away. This was all going wrong.
"Damn, let me go, Mary. What is this?"
She by now had my neck in a vice-like grip. She was strong for such a tiny woman.
"There is no need to be such a goddamn prissy about your precious little wife, honey," she said. Her words slurred from the drinks and the shortness of her breath.
"She did it too, you know."
I stiffened. Then I grabbed her locked arms and tore them from my neck. I shoved her hard. It made her slide to the edge of the bed.
"Fuck you, Mary!" I yelled. "You are such a bitch. Soiling your best friend just to get a revenge fuck. God Almighty, Mary. I thought I liked you!"
She hunched like a cornered animal. Her face looked scared, eyes wide. She breathed hard.
"It is true, Eric! It is the goddamned truth! My goddamn best friend fucked my goddamn husband! I know! He told me. He told me all the fucking dirty details!!"
She broke down in a torrent of tears. I just stared.
No place is as sad as a place where people are happy and excited while you are dying inside. Like an airport. People kissing and hugging all around you. Children running, happy screams, cheery laughter.
Her plane had been delayed. I stood waiting for almost an hour now. I felt as if I had been dragged out of the water right before drowning.
I had not phoned Irene since Mary. This morning she called me, wondering why I hadn't. I did not explain, just asked her when she would arrive. There was an awkward silence. I told her I'd pick her up, then disconnected. A minute later she called me, but I ignored her.
She called me twice again that morning. I deleted my voicemail.
She must be worried by now. Good. Why should I be the only one? I did not sleep all night. I went to work early but could not concentrate. I left around three in the afternoon.
I saw her. She walked through the sliding doors. She quickly waved her two colleagues good bye. Then she almost ran to me, her suitcase wobbling on its tiny wheels.
"Eric!" she cried from a distance. Her heels did a rap on the shining floor. I just stood. I just stood still even when her arms were around me. She shrunk back.
"What is it, Eric? What happened? Something bad?"
Her eyes were wide, searching.
"Yes," I said. My voice rasped with disuse. I cleared my throat. "Yes, Irene. Something terrible. And the most terrible thing about it is that you already know."
She looked puzzled. Nothing more, for a while. Just puzzled. She touched my chest.
"Please, Eric. I don't understand..."
I removed her hand. Then I grabbed her suitcase.
"Let's get out of here."
"But, honey..." she said. I turned away and walked to the exit. I heard her follow.
The place was almost empty. It was also bright and colourful. Perfect. I shoved the suitcase into a corner and slumped down on a crazily designed chair. Irene carefully took the one facing me. By now she was very quiet. Scared too. Would she at last suspect what this was all about? Did she finally know that her worst nightmare had submerged?
"I think," I said and coughed. "I think you have something to tell me, Irene."
In a sick way I knew this was her last and only chance. I had no idea what chance and how big it was, but I knew that if she denied, there would be no chance at all. Would she know that too?
"So you know...," she whispered. Her face was a mask. I saw no emotions, no tears. Nothing.
"If it is true, Irene, yes, then I know...I guess."
"I am sorry."
"So am I."
"I could not tell you, you know."
She started fidgeting with her fingers. Her eyes never left mine.
"It was too...unreal."
I could sit no longer. I rose and walked to the huge window. I did not see even one of the many people walking by. I saw nothing. But I heard her voice.
"It scared me too much, Eric. What I had done, what I allowed to happen. I could not face it, not face you. I had to put it away. I..."
"How often?" I asked. Stupid irrelevant question. I had to ask.
"Once. Just that once."
I was with my back to her. I pulled up my shoulders until my ears were between them. Then I let them drop.
"It is true," she said.
"It is true that you lied to me," I answered, talking to the throngs outside.
"I did not lie to you."
I turned towards her. My eyes burned.
"No, Irene! You did not lie. You WERE a lie!"
She jumped to her feet and ran to me.
"Please Eric, please no!"
I turned away and walked out of the place. Let her get a cab. I can't be with her. Just can't.
It was dark and late when I finally went home. I wasn't drunk, I wasn't even tipsy. After a few trials I found that the alcohol could not reach me, so I stopped. I walked the streets. It rained, but that did not bother me. Nothing much did.
I should think. I should put one thought behind the other and see where they linked. But I could not. There were just too many images. They were connected by questions, but that didn't mean they led to answers.
The images were about Irene and Phil. There was the sun, the pool. There was the godawful cock ramming into my woman's cunt. There was her leering smile. There were jeers and smirks.
Somehow it seemed natural that it should have happened there, at the posh goddamn villa. When? That was a question, of course, though not an important one. Why was a question too, but that one had to wait the longest.
A very prominent question was: Why me again? Followed by disturbing thoughts like: Is it me? Do I marry cheats? Is there something inside me that makes them do it? Am I a natural wimp? Those thoughts told me that I was at the absolute low of my life. I screamed into the night. A dirty bum scurried away, muttering.
I apologized. I really did.
Irene sat in the darkened living room. She still wore her coat, the suitcase stood beside her. I went to get a glass of water.
"What do you want me to do, Eric?" she asked.
"Maybe you could die, Irene? That might be an option?"
"I know, Eric. Believe me, I have thought about that one often. But there is our child..."
The haze of self-pity lifted from my brow. The child. The goddamn child! I never thought about the child. What did that mean? It was my flesh and I did not think about it even once these last hours.
Our child, the child. The next thought took my breath away.
I stared at her with an open mouth. I watched her turn pale. Her hand went up in defense.
"No, Eric!", she cried. "No, it can't be. Don't even think about it!!"
"I think you should leave, Irene. Find a place, go to your parents. Even go to fucking Mary, but please leave me alone."
I turned and went to bed.
I did not even bother to take off my clothes.
After a while I heard the door click shut.
It doesn't have to be from such dramatic cause, but when your daily life is ruptured, you tend to fall apart easily. Women have this talent not to, but men do. All the little chores they always hated anyway, now seem too unimportant to cling to.
So I quickly fell into this new order of disorder. It mainly consisted of dirty dishes, empty fridges, dirty laundry in far away corners and greasy remnants of ordered pizzas.
I was a man proudly falling apart in the best of traditions.
This is always the moment where sweet caring middle-aged secretaries pick up on what's going on. They lend their gold studded ear and have a lot of good advice. My secretary is 21, of a gothic persuasion. She could not care less, even if she'd noticed at all.
After three days I found a voice mail on my cell. It was from Mary. She said we should talk, meaning Irene and I. Hot anger flared up inside me. I wanted to delete the message, but I could not. I threw the phone on the couch I have in my office and grabbed the office phone to make the first of a million business calls.
Work, lovely soothing work.
The next voice mail message was even worse. It was from Mary again. She said I had to talk, if only because of the child. I listened once again and yes, she said "the child".
This one I deleted.
That night I was in my once favorite bar, the one where I used to go with the boys. Work done, stress gone. Just the simple little circle of booze, of jokes, of more booze, better jokes.
I had avoided drinking. Even visiting bars. But the guys refused to take no for an answer this time. They also insisted on paying for my drinks. Hey, we men know ways to show our emotions too.
Laughing way too hard after a way too weak joke, I suddenly realized I was the only one still laughing. The rest had fallen silent, staring at the door. I followed their gaze, slowed down by the many tokens of male bondage I had already consumed.
It was Irene.
She looked like shit. Drawn, pale. Hair a mess, no make up. She was the most beautiful woman in the establishment.
Hands pushed me in her direction. I snarled irritably. They just kept pushing.
"Hi," she said.
Even at that moment I thought it was the most courageous thing someone ever did.
"Hi," I heard someone say. Must have been me.
"I could not stay away," she said.