This short story will be published in a collection with other fiction and a few personal essays. More updates to come!
It was the necklace that brought it all back. I’ve known about the two of them for years, more than a decade, and I’ve been okay with it for years, more than a decade, or so I thought. But then I was reminded of that day. That stupid fucking day when he took us both up the CN Tower. Took us both to show her the sights of our city. What an idiot. Him, but also me. Of course I was reminded of that day. It’s impossible not to be reminded of the tower when you live in Toronto. And being reminded of that day made me remember. And having too much time on my hands made me turn to the photo albums. I don’t know why. I don’t know what I was looking for. More proof of their affair? Of his guilt? Maybe more answers. He didn’t provide many at the time and now, so many years later, I still have so many questions but of course the conversation is long over.
Why the fuck did he keep all these pictures. Sentimental or just stupid? Each one alone is not damning, but the collection tells enough of their story to break my heart again. I don’t know that I’ve ever looked at them all together like this, page after page of seemingly innocent poses, seemingly innocent friendly gatherings. A hand on a shoulder here. A coy smile for the camera there. In one picture she’s wearing his shirt, but he’s a nice guy so he’d lend his shirt to anyone. There’s a selfie of the two of them, their heads touching and both of them beaming with an after-sex glow. I don’t think I’ve seen that picture before. I think I’d remember it. And then there’s the one where she’s wearing it: the necklace. That one I’ve seen but I guess I never noticed before. She’s wearing my necklace, the one that he gave me. Asshole.
“You know that necklace you gave me back on our first anniversary?” I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to broach this topic. We just had sex and he hasn’t fallen asleep yet, so it seems like as good a time as any. He murmurs but doesn’t move.
“Did you give the same one to Liz?”
Now he turns his head towards me. Raises one eyebrow. I meet his gaze but don’t say anything else. I’ve learned to keep my mouth shut when the answer depends on it.
“Yes, I did,” he sighs. Then he rolls onto his back to look up at the ceiling. “I saw it lying on the kitchen counter.”
After resisting the urge to destroy his photo albums, I’d taken my version of the necklace out of our safe and left it in the kitchen. I thought it might get the conversation started when he noticed it, but I was wrong. I should have remembered his preference for avoidance.
“So. That hurts.” Understatement, but it’s all I can think to say. He looks at me again, wraps one arm around me, tells me that he’s sorry, again. I’d pictured us having this conversation, but I never imagined that he would admit the truth so easily. I thought he would be defiant and defensive. I’m not used to his humble, apologetic side.
“I thought she didn’t mean anything to you.”
“Then why’d you buy her jewelry?”
He doesn’t answer. Continues to stare at me.
“What were you thinking?” It is a question I’ve wondered so often over the past fifteen years. What was he thinking when he did it. What was he thinking when he kept doing it. What was he thinking when he decided not to tell me. What was he thinking the next time he fucked me. What was he thinking when he let other people in on his secret. What was he thinking when he introduced me to her. What was he thinking when he invited me to spend the day sightseeing with them. What was he thinking when he kept all of these photos, all of this evidence. What was he thinking when he finally decided to tell me. What, the fuck, was he thinking.
He blabs an excuse. He was young, it was the environment, we were broken up at the time so he wasn’t cheating. All bullshit.
“If we were broken up then why’d you buy both of us the same necklace?”
“I don’t know.”
This is where our accounts differ. And it’s one of the frustrating aspects about him waiting so long, five years, to confess, because neither of us could remember the exact details of when we broke up, and he couldn’t remember exactly when or for how long they were together. Conveniently.
“I saw pictures of you driving all over Quebec in the fall. We were still together in the fall.”
“I really don’t think I cheated on you.”
I stare at him with as much hatred and fury as I can project.
“You wouldn’t have bought two necklaces if you didn’t have two girlfriends. You just wouldn’t. There had to be some overlap. And if you hadn’t cheated on me then you wouldn’t have kept it a secret.”
He apologizes again. He doesn’t dare to disagree. Asshole.
And so now I am awake at four in the morning googling a name I thought I had forgotten. It is remarkable what stupid and insignificant details my mind chooses to hold onto. Google leads me to Facebook, where I can scroll Liz’s wedding pictures from eight years ago, and LinkedIn, where I can track her career history from the moment she left Quebec. She’s a therapist now, apparently marriage counselling is one of her specialties. Of all things. Her last Facebook updates were a few years ago, but she keeps her LinkedIn profile current, and it lists her email address. So that’s the best way to reach her. I don’t know where this will lead me, or what will happen to my marriage, but I need more answers.
Request for info
2019-04-23 3:18 PM
I don’t know if you remember me but we met almost twenty years ago when my husband (then-boyfriend) introduced us. We spent the day touring Toronto when you were visiting him for the weekend. You no doubt remember him, the two of you met while working together in Quebec. His name is Jason Andrews. I’m reaching out to you in the hopes that you can answer some questions for me about your time together. I know this is out of the blue and you might not want to dredge up old memories, but frankly I think you owe it to me. I hope you will agree.
There is no reply for almost three weeks. And then, when I’ve given up hope, when I’m browsing Liz’s Facebook photos (the ones that she’s too stupid to make private) and I’m contemplating buying a plane ticket to Maryland, there is a ping to signal a new message in my inbox. It’s from her. I click on it immediately.
RE: Request for info
2019-05-12 9:44 PM
I do remember you and Jason although, you’re right, your message was out of the blue and brings back thoughts from a long time ago. I don’t know why you think I owe you anything. I don’t agree. That being said, I’m willing to answer your questions.
I want to throw my computer across the room or print up one of her stupid Facbook pictures and staple it to our dartboard. I immediately start to compose a reply questioning her morality and explaining basic human decency, but I resist the overwhelming urge to send it. She said she’ll answer my questions, so I have to tread carefully with this woman I despise.
2019-05-13 10:18 AM
Thank you for your reply. I am trying to find out more information about your relationship with my husband. Do you remember when you got together and how long you were together for? And why you broke up? And what was the context of your relationship after you both left Quebec? Did you stay in contact after that weekend when you visited him in Toronto?
There are so many more things I want to say. Did she know about me from the start? What did he tell her about me during their relationship? Did it bother her that she was the other woman? Did they actually break up or did they keep up a long distance relationship when he moved back to me? How could she spend that one day pretending to be friends with me knowing that when I was gone she’d be trying to persuade Jason to sleep with her again? Did they sleep together that Toronto weekend? Did she wear hussy-white to her wedding?
Again, she doesn’t reply for weeks. As the days go by my list of questions grows. I am impatient with Jason. His mere presence in our house sets me on edge. I start smoking again, drinking earlier and earlier in the evening, avoiding my laptop, phone, and Jason as much as possible. I am a mess. Finally one night while Jason is out, I take that tacky necklace and smash it to bits using the ball-peen hammer from our toolbox. I don’t bother to clean up the mess.
It’s been almost two months since Jennifer emailed me and I’m still reeling. What the hell was she thinking, contacting me out of nowhere almost twenty years later with her list of demands. I know exactly what she’s looking for but I’ll be damned if I’m going to give it to her. She was the clueless one back then, not me. I knew what I was doing. She still won, even though she had no idea what game she was playing.
I don’t know why I said I would answer her questions. Curiosity, I guess. When I read the list it made me laugh. I thought I could ignore her and she would go away, and, thank God, so far she has. But she’s still here in my mind, bothering me so much that I can’t sleep. Bothering me so much that I’m looking her up on the internet to piece together her life. Their life. The life he chose with the woman he chose, who was not me. Apparently she’s a writer now. There are even pictures of the two of them together from some fancy party they went to last year. He looks the same except for a few wrinkles and grey hairs. She looks the same too. Blonder hair, none of it grey. Neither of them are fat, neither has let themselves go. Disappointing.
“What are you doing?”
Steve’s voice interrupts my reverie. He walks into the room rubbing his eye with one hand and the top of his head with the other. Good old Steve, the reliable one. The one it took me twelve years to find. The one who gave me a daughter and stuck around so we could raise her together. He was already bald when we met.
“Can’t sleep.” I close the flap on my iPad cover and put it aside. Steve sits down beside me and pulls me into his chest.
“That woman still bothering you?”
I nod. I didn’t tell Steve about Jennifer’s email right away, but after a couple of weeks of it weighing heavily on my mind I finally asked for his opinion. We tell each other everything. Or close to everything, sooner or later. Steve thought I should see what she had to say. He doesn’t believe in closing doors.
“You know, it’s been a while. It’s probably not going to go away on its own.”
I nod. I know it’s not, I don’t need to be told.
“Did you ever think this would happen?” he asks, reading my preference for conversation rather than advice.
“No.” I never thought I would hear from Jason again, let alone his wife.
“Do you think she could tell?”
“No. I don’t think so. She was friendly. She wouldn’t have been so friendly if she suspected something.”
“But you must have been showing by then, weren’t you?”
No. I wasn’t showing by then. Because I wasn’t pregnant yet. But that is the part of the story that I’ve never told him. Close to everything.
“Didn’t you feel the urge to tell her? Didn’t you want to get it all out in the open rather than spend that tortured day in the backseat of their car watching them hold hands over the gearshift?”
“Of course.” I can still feel the knot that I felt staring at their entwined fingers.
“I don’t know how you restrained yourself. It was very honourable of you.”
It wasn’t honourable. If I had told her it would have blown up his life and he never would have forgiven me. I was naively holding onto hope, thinking that if I was patient enough then our story would end like every romantic movie I’d ever seen. One day we’d laugh while sharing our scandalous beginnings with our grandchildren, our fingers wrapped together like our lives depended on it. Stupid. Besides, I knew that if I could just survive that day watching them together then eventually she’d go home. Eventually I’d have him all to myself. Eventually I’d get what I wanted. And I did.
“I still don’t understand how he could have done that to you. Abandoned you like that.”
He looks down and kisses me on the top of my head.
“Lucky for me he did.”
“Miranda, are you coming home any time soon?”
It’s late. Later than I usually call her. But I can’t sleep and I think it’s finally time to tell her.
“I don’t think so, Mom. Summer classes are pretty busy right now.”
“You can’t even come for a weekend? This weekend? I’ll buy your plane ticket.”
There is silence on the phone.
“Is everything okay, Mom?”
“Then what’s going on?”
I sigh. I didn’t want to tell her over the phone.
“I didn’t want to tell you over the phone.”
“Just tell me.”
And so I do.
“Do you remember that I told you your father was someone I’d met long ago, when I was young and stupid and didn’t realize what could happen?”
“And you always wanted to know more information about him. You always wanted to know who he was.”
“Yes. And you always said you would tell me one day when I was old enough.”
“Mom, I’m old enough.”
And so I tell her. I tell her who he is, and what he does now, and that the irony is that they both live in the same city. Too far from me.
“So that’s why you didn’t want me to go to school in Toronto,” she says.
“Thanks for telling me.”
A single tear slides down my cheek.
“You’re welcome, sweetheart. I’ve only ever wanted what’s best for you.”
I say the words, and I mean them, but I’ve also only ever wanted what’s best for me.
“I know, Mom.”
We keep talking, she keeps reassuring me, until we run out of things to say.
“Thanks, Mom. This was good.”
It’s late, too late for both of us, and so we hang up. And I sit at the kitchen table staring at my phone for a very long time.
Now that she’s finally told me the truth, I don’t know how to react. So I reach for a cigarette. I go out onto the porch even though it’s freezing, and I smoke it slowly, until I feel relaxed. Of course I knew who my father was, long before she told me. It wasn’t hard to figure it out, she still had her photos and the papers with his name on it from that time long ago when they did that course together. I found him online. I reached out. He reached back. Apparently she’d never told him about me either. We began a conversation. When I had a choice of schools, it only made sense to be near him. It only made sense to try to learn more about this part of my life that she’d kept so private. So hidden. This part of my life that she’d chosen was best if it was a secret. So I came to Toronto. And the conversation we’d began turned into something more. It turned into a relationship. Not a father-daughter relationship, he’d missed out on far too much of my life for that thanks to her, but a relationship. So when he asked me to move into his house, to sublet their basement apartment because I was a struggling student and he lived so close to the university, what was I to do? I’d been raised in a shroud of secrecy so it only made sense to continue. He introduced me to his wife with the bare minimum of information, she didn’t bat an eye because they’d had borders for years and she trusted him with her whole heart, and they both welcomed me with open arms.
The door behind me creaks open and it’s him. My Dad.
“Can I join you?”
I nod my assent, pass him a cigarette, and he sits down beside me.
He exhales a stream of smoke.
“She finally told me.”
“I figured she would one day.”
I take my own drag.
“So, now what?”
“Now what, what?”
“Did you tell her you knew?”
“Are you going to?”
“I don’t know. Are you going to tell Jennifer?”
He gives me a sidelong glance. Even without looking I can read the confusion on his face.
“Why would I?”
I turn to look at him head-on.
“Don’t you think it’s time she knows?”
He turns back, looks at the grass.
“I think it’ll break her.”
“Maybe. Maybe not.”
“I don’t want to hurt her.”
“It’ll definitely hurt her. But it happened so long ago. Don’t you think she’ll understand?”
“Didn’t you say you told her some of the story before?”
“Some. Not all. Not the parts that’ll break her.”
I inhale deeply, stare up at the trees. The leaves are beautiful but it’s still so cold.
“So many secrets. It’s the secrets that break people.”
“Then why didn’t you tell your mom?”
“Because she never told me. And I think it’ll break her.” And it’s easier not to. Because I’m also a coward. Just like him. Just like both of them.
“They both deserve the truth.”
“They both deserved the truth years ago.”
We finish smoking in silence. Both daunted by what we need to do.
“There’s one more thing.”
“About what?” Jennifer asks.
Her face snaps up. I can’t read her eyes.
“That weekend she came to visit me.”
“We slept together.”
She doesn’t react at first. Remains motionless.
“That weekend, when you and I were together, in love, when it was definitely betrayal, you slept together.”
I nod, staring at the floor.
“That weekend that I’ve asked you about so many times over the years and every time you’ve said she wanted to but nothing happened.”
Silence. I look up at her, and she is staring at me with the most hatred I’ve ever seen on her face.
“Every time I asked you for more details you said there were none. Even when I found the pictures and the necklace, you said that was it. You said you never cheated on me. You said you never slept with her that weekend.”
I say nothing.
“So, how did it happen? She was here what, three days? So you just fucked her whenever I wasn’t around?”
“No, it’s not like that. She tried to seduce me the first two nights and I said no.”
“How honourable of you.”
“And then the morning she was leaving she climbed into my bed.”
“And I resisted. At first.”
“Again, so honourable.”
“And then I couldn’t resist.”
She stares at me, fuming.
“Why? Because she was so beautiful? So sexy? She had a magical irresistible vagina?”
“No,” I snort. “None of those things.”
“Because she was there.”
She stares at me.
“And that’s supposed to be a good reason.”
“I’m not saying it was a good reason. It’s just the reason.”
“You fucking asshole. Every time you told me “That’s the truth, there’s nothing more.” So now I suppose this is the truth and there’s nothing more?”
“No,” I whisper.
“So what the fuck else?”
“Miranda is my daughter.”
At this she leaps up from the couch. Slaps me across the face, hard.
“I didn’t know,” I say.
“Oh, it’s a coincidence that your love child is living in our house?”
“No, I knew before she moved here. But Liz never told me she was pregnant.”
“So, she’s a slut who seduced you into having sex you didn’t want, a bitch who pretended to be my friend the whole time I was nice to her, and a cunt who would deny her child a father and a father that child. What the fuck did you see in this whore?”
“She was there,” I say. Another whisper.
“And that’s all it takes. A warm body. Doesn’t even have to be a good looking one because from what I remember, she was already starting to get fat.”
I say nothing. I have no defence.
“And now for the past year I’ve been a surrogate-mom to her child, who is lovely despite being her mother’s daughter, without any of this information that you’ve kept from me.”
I nod my head slowly.
“And I suppose there are no more lies. Now, this time, you’ve told me all of the truth.”
“Right. You’re despicable.”
She walks out of the room and I don’t follow. It’s quite obvious I’m not wanted.
2019-06-27 11:23 PM
Thank you for never bothering to reply to my questions despite saying that you would. Yet another lie that so easily rolls off your tongue I suppose. Just wanted to let you know that your daughter, the love child you had with my husband and may or may not have ever told him about, is living in my house. She has been for over a year. Since she’s only going into second year university I imagine she’ll be staying here for at least three more years. I’ll likely divorce Jason thanks to you, but I’ll still keep the house and Miranda does love my cooking so I imagine she’ll keep renting her room. She especially loves my lasagna and banana bread, says that it’s the best she’s ever had every single time I make it.
I do hope that makes you feel like shit. Clearly it won’t make you feel nearly as shitty as you’ve made me feel. But I have plans for that. Lots of plans. It helps that you’ve gotten fat. Your husband sure didn’t fall for a fat bride. And as you know, any man can be tempted. Can’t say I’d want to sleep with him because well, look at him, but at least we know that any man can be tempted. And plenty of women will do plenty of things for far less than a little money. So I’ve got plans. And they don’t just involve your daughter. And they don’t just involve your husband. But they certainly do involve destroying everything in your life that gives you joy. So you should probably start sleeping with one eye open. Because revenge is a dish best served cold and hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Well, off to make your daughter some chamomile tea now with her favourite night time snack, my homemade oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. We do so enjoy our little late-night tea chats. Nighty night.
© Charise Jewell, 2019