“Whatever it is, keep doing it,” he’d said. So, I had.
I carried Nubby to my new white leather sectional, hitting the play button on the stereo before sitting down. Barbra started singing “What Kind of Fool” as I lay down thinking of Darius and what he would do to Rachel.
Sleep was always an issue for me. I had so many things to digest, contemplate about my day. Sometimes I replayed something that happened over and over until I thought I’d go mad. My mind never shut off, and I woke up early each morning with new worries. Once awake, I couldn’t switch off the anxiety. It rolled down a steep hill gaining speed, except it never crashed, never came to a stop. Sometimes I sat down on the couch at midnight, my MacBook open on my lap, Barbra playing softly through the speakers, and I’d work a little, but mostly I’d think. When I looked at the time again it would be five AM and I wouldn’t know where the time went.
I made mental lists: all the ways I’m better than her, the ways I can make him happier than she does. If he left her we would have Mercy part of the time. I would be her mother. My whole family complete. But, what if she found out before it’s time? This is what kept me up. I had to be a good friend to her, so she didn’t become suspicious.
I’m not wrong.
When she didn’t call me, didn’t ask me over—I reached out. I sent her a naked picture of myself in the shower. I texted her little encouraging quotes and stories since she was writing again, offered to come over and cook them dinner so she could work. There were days when she would ignore me and days she’d respond. Manic, that was an artist thing. I could relate. I was an artist even if I hadn’t found my medium yet.
At first she resisted, but then—miracle of miracles—she started saying yes. I rushed to the market, filling my cart with things I thought would impress: goat cheese, and arugula, and the leanest organic ground beef I could find. Then I’d show up at their house with a treat for Mercy, who was always happy to see me. Since things had progressed with Darius and me, he was less attentive in person, not making eye contact, not directly addressing me. I wanted to tell him to stop that. To act normal. But, I figured he was grieving the end of his marriage, so I let him be. We both needed time to process what was happening. Jolene gave me the number of her stylist when I asked. I have an appointment in two weeks, she told me. I dye it black for the winter.
Black? Her hair was already a dark ebony, how much darker could she go? But, since my appointment was before hers I had him dye my hair black too, that way I had it first. I watched her face the first time she saw it. The shock. It was a big change for me.
I’m not wrong.
“Where’s your colander? I’m sorry, am I bothering you?” I glanced over to where she was working.
She pointed to a cabinet and I smiled. Sometimes being in a room with her was like being alone. I shivered, thinking of Darius. NO! I was done with taking sides. I could be friends with them both, love them both, have them be separate entities in my mind. Maybe after Darius and I were together, Jolene and I could still be friends. She’d see how wrong they were for each other, she’d be happy with Ryan and want to have a good relationship for Mercy’s sake.
I made a casserole with Jolene tapping on her computer nearby, thinking about what it would feel like to have Darius’s cock inside of me. Would I cry out like she did, where I could hear her clear across the space between our houses? Would he kiss me with his full soft lips while I came? My hands shook as I worked. I was making the casserole for Darius. I wanted to be the one to meet his needs: my cooking, my body, my mouth. I was also making the casserole for myself, to prove that I could be a good friend, however unworthy I may see Jolene. It was a struggle.
I was taking the casserole out of the oven when the doorbell rang. I heard Darius open it, and then Amanda and Hollis’s voices drifted to the kitchen. Had she known they were coming? Had he? It was outright rude and inconsiderate not to tell me. Jolene stood up and walked to the other room. I tried to catch her eye, but she was smiling, walking toward Amanda like I didn’t exist. I immediately excused myself to the restroom, feeling sick. I heard them talking, and then a minute later, all four of them walked into the kitchen. I forced a smile as I reached into the cabinet for the plates, ignoring the surprise that registered on Amanda’s face.
“Fig, your hair!” she said. I reached up to touch a strand of it as her eyes traveled between Jolene and me.
“Hey, hey. You guys staying for dinner?” I said, to distract her.
Amanda looked at Jolene, who was nodding. “Yeah, yeah they are.”
“Good thing I made this giant fucking casserole then.” I laughed. I busied myself setting the table for six, pouring wine, and filling water glasses with ice cubes. I hardly looked up at them, but I could feel their eyes on me. Vipers. Mean girls. That’s what they were. Jolene didn’t own black hair, so they could go fuck themselves.
When I set the salad on the table I called them in.
“What’s it feel like having two wives, man?” Hollis laughed, eyeing my spread and smacking Darius on the back. Darius shot a nervous look my way before walking over to Jolene and hugging her like he was trying to prove some kind of fucking point. Pathetic. Yet, everyone bought it, his delicious display of affection. The happy couple. I watched Hollis watch Darius and couldn’t decipher the look that passed over his face. Maybe I underestimated him and he wasn’t buying into it either. When it was time to eat, I ended up next to Hollis with Darius and Jolene across from me (Mercy between them), and Amanda at the head of the table.