“You went to see Olivia?”
My hand freezes, tea drips on the tile and onto my pants.
Now I know why his leg is bouncing.
“You forced me to do it.” I step on the lever that opens the trashcan and drop the tea bag in. I can feel his eyes on me.
He cocks his head. “You really believe that, don’t you?”
I don’t know what he’s talking about. I fiddle with my thumbnail.
“Did she call you?” That tattletale bitch, I think bitterly. And then in an almost panic — What else did she tell him?
“You had no right, Leah.”
“I had every right. You bought her a house!”
“That was before you,” he says calmly.
“And you never thought to tell me? Really? I am your wife! She came back when you had your amnesia and lied to you! You couldn’t tell me that you bought that woman a house?”
He looks away.
“It’s more complicated than that,” he says. “I was making plans with her.”
Complicated? Complicated seems like too good of a word for Olivia. I definitely don’t want to know about the plans he made with her, either. He needs to see the truth. I need to make him see the truth.
“I found out on my own, Caleb. How she lied to you when you had the amnesia.”
He cocks his eyebrow at me. Maybe if I tell him the truth, he will finally see how loyal I am, how much I love him. “I paid her to leave town. Did she tell you that during my trial? She was willing to sell you out for a couple hundred bucks.”
I once watched a natural dam break on television. I remember seeing a scenic picture of a river surrounded by trees. All of a sudden, the trees disappeared — sucked away by the collapse of the riverbank. A swell of angry water rushed around the corner, wiping out everything in its path. It was sudden, and it was violent.
I see the dam break in Caleb’s eyes.
Human eyes are the sign language of the brain. If you watch them carefully, you can see the truth played out, raw and unguarded. When you are the bastard child of a prostitute and you need to know what your adoptive parents are thinking, you learn how to read eyes. You can see a lie prod the truth, a hurt be swept into a cranial recess, happiness as a wide luminescent light. You can see the crushing of a soul beneath a terrible loss. What I see in Caleb’s eyes is a leftover hurt; hurt with mold growing on it. Hurt so profound that blood and tears and regret cannot possibly do it justice.
What does she have that I don’t have? She owns the deed to his house and to his hurt. I am so jealous of his hurt that I throw my head back and open my mouth to scream in rage. He won’t hear me. No matter how loudly I scream his name, he will not hear me. He only hears her.
“She wouldn’t do that,” he says.
“She did. She is a deceiver. She is not what you think.”
“You did that to her apartment,” he says. His eyes are wide, bleary.
I look away, ashamed. But, no, I am not ashamed. I fought for what I wanted.
“Why her, Caleb?”
He looks at me blandly. I don’t expect him to answer. When his voice breaks the tense air between us, I stop breathing to hear him.
“I didn’t choose her,” his voice breaks. “Love is illogical. You fall into it like a manhole. Then you’re just stuck. You die in love more than you live in love.”
I don’t want to hear his poetic analogies. I want to know why he loves her. I finger the gold hoop earrings I’m wearing. I bought them after I met her at the diner. They don’t have the same effect on me. Where they made her look exotic, I look like I’m playing dress-up. I yank them from my ears and toss them away from me.
But, I can be what he needs. He just needs to give me the chance to prove it.
“You need to come home.”
He drops his head. I want to scream — LOOK AT ME!
When he does, his eyes are raw.
“I filed the papers, Leah. It’s over.”
I say the word. It whispers from my lips — burns them. “Papers?”
My marriage is worth more than something as thin and insubstantial as papers. You cannot end something with that vile word. Caleb is a man used to getting his way. Not now. I will fight him on this.
“We can go to counseling. For Estella.”
Caleb shakes his head. “You need someone to be able to love you the way you deserve to be loved. I’m so sorry — ” He clenches his jaw, looks at me almost pleadingly, like he needs me to understand. “I can’t give you that. God, I wish I could, Leah. I’ve tried.”
I think about that, I do. I think about the time I caught him looking at Olivia like she was the only f**king thing that mattered on the whole f**king planet, and the time he kept her ice cream/finger in the freezer for two years. What type of love was that? Obsessive? What had she done to get his brain wired to her circuit board? I am so out of breath after I am done thinking these things that I spin for the doors that sit off the kitchen and shove them open. The air outside is thick and still. It feels like jello, and I feel like every bone in my heart is breaking. I pace the patio, and in seconds, I can feel my shirt sticking to my back. Out of the corner of my eye, I see Caleb follow me outside. He has his hands in his pockets, and he’s biting his upper lip.
I rifle through my bag of tricks. I look at his face: hard, determined, sorry. I don’t want his sorry. I want what Olivia has. I want to be enough for him.
Honesty is sticky, and I hate it. It always has consequences that f**k up your life … God, I’d rather just wade around the truth and find a lie I can live with. That’s what I call compromise. Knowing that my husband loves someone else and living with it … that’s a truth you don’t look in the eye, and now he was forcing me to.
I stop pacing and stand in front of him with my hands squared on my hips.
“I won’t sign the papers. I’ll fight you.”
I want to slap him when he narrows his eyes and shakes his head at me.
“Why do you want that for yourself, Leah?”
What I want for myself is the family I put together through blood, sweat and toil. I want it all to mean something. I won, fair and square. The bitch had him between her fist, and I took him back. Why is my f**king prize trying to divorce me? I collect myself, all the shredded angry pieces, and I rope them back together so I can take control. Vicious doesn’t work with Caleb. You can reason with him. He has stout British honor and American practicality.
“I want what you swore to give me. You said you’d never hurt me! You said you’d love me for better or worse!”
“I did. I didn’t know…” He covers his face with his hands. I’m not sure if I want him to go on. His accent, his goddamn accent.
“You didn’t know what, Caleb? That you were still hung up on your first love?”
His head comes up. I’ve caught his attention.
“I found the ring. After you had the accident. Why did you buy me a ring if you still loved her?”
His face is ashen. I keep going.
“It’s not real. Those feelings that you have are for someone and something that no longer exist. I am real. Estella is real. Be with us.”
Still he says nothing.
I take a minute to sob. Where does he come off thinking that he has the answer to happiness? I thought I had the answer, and look where it got me. Caleb once told me that love was a desire and desire was an emptiness. I remind him of this. He looks shocked, like he can’t believe I was capable of even understanding those words. Maybe I’ve played stupid with him long enough.
“It’s not that simple, Leah.”
“You do the best you can, with what you have. You can’t leave us. We are your truth.” I slam my fist into my palm.
He swears, laces his hands behind his neck and looks at the sky. I don’t feel bad for using the guilt card. The guilt card is solid. It always pays out with interest. When he looks back at me, he’s not wearing the contrite face I was hoping for.
“You and I don’t know how to play the truth game.” He blows air through his nose.
I would have let that comment slip by in abeyance, but I can sense an underlying meaning beneath his words, and I am compelled to dig.
“What are you talking about?”
Caleb’s eyes park on my face. I squirm. “Why did you do those things? Blackmailing Olivia … trashing her apartment? ”
I don’t hesitate. “Because I love you.”
He nods, seeming to accept it. I feel hopeful. Maybe he will see what I did as a fight for love.
“You and I are not so different.” He scuffs the toe of his shoe against the tile and smiles like he’s just swallowed a mouthful of grapefruit. His eyes are clear and wide when he looks up at me: maple syrup without the sweetness.
“Leah…” he sighs and squeezes his eyes shut. I brace myself for what he’s about to say, but nothing can prepare me for what comes out of his mouth.
“That ring was hers, Leah.”
I feel the shock move through me, as if it is a physical thing like blood. It rushes and pulls and tears. Then, he says the words that change everything.
“I faked the amnesia.”
I hear each word separately. I have to mentally latch on to each one and put them back together so I can understand. But, I don’t understand. Why would he do that?
“Why? Your family … me … why would you do that to us?”
“Olivia,” is all he says.
It’s all he needs to say for me to put all of the pieces together. I decide that I hate the color of maple syrup. I’d rather choke and die on a mouthful of dry pancakes, than ever eat maple syrup again.
“Fuck you,” I say. Then, I say it again. And again. And again. I say it until I am in a fetal position on the ground, and all I can think about is throwing every bottle of f**king maple syrup out of my fridge and out of my life forever.
My head spins. I’ve never felt anything so painful. My heart heaves and contracts. It feels heavy and then it feels like it’s not there at all — like he stuck his hand through my ribcage and squeezed until it burst. It feels like I have a thousand ton elephant sitting on my chest. I weakly try to hold on to my reserve, but I feel it being torn away from me. Something inside of me uncoils. With an awkward jerk of my head, I glare up at him with all the hatred I am feeling.
He stands with his back to me until I am done crying, and when I stand up, he faces me.
“I know that to merely say sorry would be an insult. I am more than sorry for what I’ve done. I married you when all along I belonged to someone else. I have been lying to everyone. I don’t even recognize myself anymore.”
I am emotionally inebriated. I don’t know whether to make him watch me slit my wrists or slit his and put an end to my misery. My face has become a swamp of tears and mascara and nose leakage. I want to hurt him.
“You think you can leave us and be happy? She’s gone, Caleb,” I sneer. “Wedded … bedded — “ I see him flinch, and my rage climbs higher.
I lick my lips and taste wine. I’ve had too much of it, and my tongue is ready to curl around every ugly secret I own and spit them at him, one by one, until he’s asphyxiated from the incredible weight of them. I want to take away his breath, crush his windpipe, and with what I know, I surely can.
Where to start? I contemplate telling him that I’ve met Noah and that he’s f**king sexy Ghandi — that I understand why Olivia was able to move on.
I shake my head, tears burn like lemon juice in my eyes. I need to know it all. What he did during those weeks that I thought she was taking advantage of him.
“Did you sleep with her — during your pretend f**king amnesia?”
There is an uncomfortably long pause, which I consider answer enough.
“Yes.” His voice is suddenly raspy.
“Have you ever been in love with me?”
He dips his head as he thinks.
“I love you,” he says, “but, not in the right way.”
My heart plummets as realization sets in. He loves me — he’s never been in-love with me.
“You don’t love me the same way you love Olivia.”
He flinches like I’ve hit him. For a moment, his guard is down, and I see so much hurt on his face that I am taken aback. He covers it quickly.
He looks sorry, he really does — or maybe it’s just my vision that is blurred because of my tears. I collapse in a heap again and pull my knees up to my chest.
I hear him slide down next to me. For a long time, neither of us says anything. I am mentally replaying the year he spent pretending to have amnesia, revisiting the conversations and doctor’s visits. I cannot find a single crack in his story. I fight through the memories, trying to find at least a moment in that year where I sensed he was being untruthful, but there is nothing. I feel like such a fool. So used. How could I be so in love with a man that was so willing to deceive me? I feel like a piece of trash, disposable and unwanted. I know that I am a mess; my tears have caught strands of my hair and plastered them to my face — a face that always gets blotchy and red when I cry. I have never let him see me like this, not even when my father died.
There are so many questions, so many things that I need to know, but my tongue stubbornly stays glued to the roof of my mouth. Caleb tried to get Olivia back. Not once, but twice — first when he faked the amnesia, and the second time when he hired her to be my attorney. If he wanted her so badly, why hadn’t he left me when he had the chance? It wasn’t in his nature to drag his feet.
I shake at his honesty. The stinging truth of how I had pressured him into proposing to me after I chased Olivia out of town echoes in my head. No. This is not my fault. He didn’t have to marry me. I may have played fiercely to keep him, but I thought that he loved me, that he wanted to spend his life with me. He never showed me otherwise. Then I realize something else: Caleb is not as good as I have always thought him to be. His integrity, his honesty, the pure and selfless way he takes care of the people he loves … it all evaporates in light of this new, deceitful Caleb. My God — he did everything in his power to get to her, and I did everything in my power to keep her away.