She appeared to grow uncomfortable at my question.
“He didn’t like it. But, we have an agreement. He doesn’t try to change me; I don’t try to change him. I’m not that girl who locks herself up after she’s married. If a friend comes into town, I see my friend. End of story.”
I imagined she’d said those very words to him.
“You shouldn’t have to change,” I said. “He married you for who you are. When you start changing little things, the big things change, too.”
“Exactly,” she said. “That’s exactly right.”
I felt excited. I was speaking her language and she was trusting me a little more with each sentence we exchanged.
“A relationship should have complete trust. If he truly knows who you are then he should feel comfortable with you having dinner with an old friend.”
“Thanks, Fig. I needed to hear that.”
“The guy you had dinner with … did you ever…?”
She was shaking her head before I’d even finished.
“No, nothing like that. We barely know each other. In college we ran in separate groups. We connected more after we graduated. Checked in every year or so on Facebook. It’s a loose friendship.”
“Then why in the world would it make you question if you were monogamous?”
Her hand stilled over her mug of tea. She didn’t look at me, but even in the near dark I could see the muscles working in her jaw. She was into this guy. No matter what she said. Or maybe she just wasn’t into Darius anymore. She was constantly complaining about how little he was around. She didn’t know how lucky she was. Darius worked hard, and it wasn’t like he was working some shallow, soul-sucking job. He was helping people. She should feel proud of that.
“It’s getting late,” she said, moving her mug over to the sink. “I think I need to go to bed.”
“Of course.” I stood up. I made my way over to the back door as she rinsed the mugs, her head down.
“Will they be back tomorrow?” I asked.
“What?” She looked surprised that I was still there.
“Mercy and Darius…”
“I don’t know. Goodnight, Fig.”
I was disoriented for a second, not knowing which direction to walk to get to the gate. Did she just dismiss me after I spent an hour sympathizing with her? I was worried about her. I came over to see if she was all right, and all she did was dismiss me in the end. That’s exactly the type of friend she was. And why was I surprised? She’d stolen her friend’s boyfriend, after all. My last thought as I climbed into bed, exhausted and smelling of cigarettes, was about Darius and Mercy. They deserved better.
I did not see the Averys for two whole weeks. That’s a lie. I saw them getting into Darius’s car on Sunday, a chipper happy family, Jolene carrying a casserole dish. And on Monday, I saw them out the back window eating dinner around the picnic table in the garden, Darius and Mercy sword fighting with corn on the cob, and Jolene laughing and taking pictures. And on Wednesday, I saw them taking a walk, holding Mercy’s hands and swinging her between them every few steps. On Thursday, Darius brought a bouquet of flowers and a bottle of red wine home, and later that night I heard them making love through their open bedroom window. Friday, I didn’t see them at all.
I drew my curtains and lay in the dark, listening to Barbra Streisand sing “Woman in Love” and feeling lower than I had in a long time. What was I upset about anyway? Jolene’s dismissive attitude? Darius not seeking me out or inviting me over for dinner? Or was it because it had been two weeks since I’d seen my little Mercy? I was about to roll over and order a pizza when a text pinged on my phone. My heart started racing as soon as I saw her name. Well, speak of the devil, I thought smugly, typing in the password to my phone.
He texted me.
It took me a minute to figure out who he was. Ding! Ding! Ding!
Who texted you? I sent back, playing dumb.
Ryan, the guy I met up with a few weeks ago.
“Ryan,” I said it out loud. We now had a name.
Well, what took him so long? I asked. Then, thinking I needed to add something to keep things light, I added a smiley face emoji.
He sent me a couple songs he likes, said he hopes they help me write.
I could feel her panic through the phone. She obviously wanted perspective on what this Ryan guy was doing. I immediately looked him up on Instagram, searching through the people she followed to find him. He was vastly different from Darius; edgy, with one of those hairstyles that was shaved on the sides, leaving a long strip of hair down the middle of his head. He had tattoos and he liked to wear purple. He matched her, sort of like the way I matched Darius. Most of his posts were of nature, or the downtown area of wherever he lived, with the occasional serious-faced selfie thrown in.
That’s really nice. I sent back. Songs any good?
Yeah, I guess.
I felt her slipping away with that one. If I wanted her to keep talking to me I was going to have to tell her what she wanted to hear.
He’s totally into you and he doesn’t even care that you’re married. Kind of hot.
Her text pinged back a moment later. That’s what scares me. He didn’t ask about Darius at all, and when I tried to bring him up he’d change the subject. He just wanted to talk about me and my writing.
I rolled onto my stomach and chewed on my lip. Does Darius ask about your writing?
He cares about you. Nothing wrong with that.