I see him standing in the lobby with the perturbed scowl of a man who has just been terribly inconvenienced. I don’t bother smiling, although the sight of him makes my heart flutter and ache at the same time. He smiles at the lobby clerk, and guides me to the elevator that requires his key.
“Nice to be going in the front for a change,” I say, my bitterness overwhelming the small elevator car and crowding him into silence. He opens the door for me like a gentleman, and the first thing I do is scan his place for any sign of her–a leftover scarf, some lipstick, a pearl handled knife he can jab in my back. Nothing. You would never know she was in his life, unless you had photographic evidence burning a hole through your hand.
“This better be good, Julia, because I had to take a lot of risks to get here. I had to lie to Blake about a meeting, and I’m not really used to being the lying brother in the family. You could have jeopardized our last chance!”
“Oh, I don’t know, Mark. Seems like you lie pretty well to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“For example, how you told me you wanted to give Valerie James whatever she wanted from my office because you thought it would be good for me. That was a total lie. Or when you told me Valerie James was going to get my company because she was Blake’s mistress. That was a good one too. Or when you told me you were falling in love with me. That was the biggest whopper of them all. You lie just fine.”
“She is Blake’s mistress!” he blurted out.
“And when you say “Blake” you mean you, right?”
“What the hell?” Mark put his hands on his hips and bit his lower lip. I had done a good job of staying in control, but even the best dam breaks at some point.
“Hell? You want to know about hell? I’ll tell you about hell. Hell is when you open yourself up to someone completely, giving him your body and soul, just to wake up in the morning and discover you’re nothing but a fool.”
I can’t contain it any more. I throw the envelope at him and make my way to the couch. Just looking at it makes me want to vomit. I can’t sit on it knowing she was there, on this sofa, loving him and laughing at my naivety. I pace around the couch looking for somewhere to sit because I’m about to pass out, when I finally land on a bar stool in the kitchen.
I watch Mark as he picks up the envelope that bounced off his chest and landed on the floor. He looks at me quizzically, and then carefully opens the flap. Reaching in, he pulls the stack of pictures out and turns them over so he can see the top one. I stare at him unashamedly. I want to see his face when he gets caught in his act.
It’s not the expression I anticipated. He’s not angry, or guilty, or sad. He doesn’t throw them back in protest or laugh and pretend it’s a joke. He squints and analyzes each one, going through the stack again and again. I can tell by his eyes, and the slight head tilt he’s making, the only feeling he has is confusion.
“Where did you get these?” he asks looking at me like he’s just seen an airplane materialize out of thin air. “Who took them?”
I’m taken aback by his quiet confusion and don’t know how to feel about it. If this is an act, he should get an Academy Award.
“How the hell should I know who took them?” I retort. “Who else do you have in the room when you’re having sex with my worst enemy? Maybe that would be the person.”
“We didn’t have anyone with us and these were taken in my house. I don’t understand how this is possible. Where did you get these?”
“Okay, Mark. Let’s put the brakes on,” I say testily. The fact he is more concerned about the evidence than what it shows puts me off. “Before we get into who owns a camera, why don’t you stop and tell me exactly why you are screwing Valerie James in these pictures?”
“Don’t be dumb, Julia. We were screwing because she was my lover and that’s what you do with lovers–you make love. Now, where did you get these?”
“Oh, that explains it. You’re lovers. How nice. How f**king nice. You make love. Well, if you two are ‘lovers’ then what the hell have you and I been? Fuckers?” I stand up and open my arms wide. I know I promised myself I wouldn’t be histrionic but once again Mark has my head messed up as the situation spins wildly out of my expectation.
Mark looks at me again and I can see he finally gets the fact I’m on the edge here.
“Wait,” he says. “You don’t think this is now, do you?”
“Now who’s dumb, Mark? Yes I think this is now. The past is the past, the future is the future and this is f**king now! Stop with the philosophy and tell me why.” I sit back down, the strength bleeding out of me as I swing from anger to the other side of this equation–the hurt. “I just want to know why. What did I ever do to any of you?”
Mark sits down on the couch, clearly having trouble looking away from the pictures. I know that feeling. He sets them aside, and gives me the gentlest loving gaze. I could slap him for it.
“Julia, come sit with me and I can explain some of this. Then I need you to explain some things to me because I think we’re in deep waters here,” he says softly as if he is trying to talk down a grizzly bear.
“I’m not sitting on that f**king couch. Now or ever, you jackass. The only thing I want to do on that couch is set it on fire. How’s that for an explanation?”
“You need to stop,” Mark says with his no-nonsense parental tone. The lessons of my submissive month kick in and I immediately stare at the floor. I want to fight the hypnotic suggestion his voice holds on me, but I fall into his spell every time.
“I want this to stop,” I cry quietly. “I want all this pain to stop.”
“Here’s what we’re going to do. First, you are going to stop the cursing. It’s unhelpful at best, and grotesque on you. Second, I am going to sit beside you and explain my side of this and you are not going to interrupt me. Then, and only then, will I listen to you. Third, at that time you will tell me exactly where you got these.”
I grab a Kleenex from the bar and nod like a pacified child. He walks over slowly and takes the stool beside me at the kitchen bar, placing the pictures on the counter face down. I reach over and turn them back up. He can face his guilt while he faces me.
“Yes,” he says with crisp and accentuated articulation, “Val and I were lovers. But it was at least five years ago and we haven’t been together since.”