I was fighting off tears when I finally waved them over for lunch. How long had they been playing baseball together? Forty minutes? An hour? Fig looked like the cat that got the cream as she strolled over. I noticed how tight her top was, how her tiny little tits pushed against the fabric. She wasn’t wearing a bra. Was there more of a sway to her hips? I stewed over the details as I unpacked the picnic basket I’d brought, slamming containers onto the ground while pretending to be fine. No, this was not in my head. They had been laughing, touching, and exchanging looks. It was like they were on a date and I was the third wheel. They collapsed on the grass, their banter drawing the eyes of those in our vicinity. I couldn’t look at either of them, so I focused on feeding my daughter. I needed to speak to my friends, get some perspective. If I was blowing this up, making it something it wasn’t—they would tell me. I had questions. When had I become the third wheel? How long had they been fucking?
“What’s wrong?” he asked as soon as we were home.
I shook my head, carrying a sleeping Mercy into the house and fighting back tears. I’d given him the silent treatment all the way home, staring out the window and watching the cars drive by. Super mature, I know. When I walked into the kitchen he was waiting for me, leaning against the counter staring at his feet. He has small feet, I thought bitterly. I wanted to laugh at how childish my thoughts were. For instance, if Fig was fucking him, she could do a lot better … in length and width. And where the fuck was George anyway? Shouldn’t he be groveling by now?
“What the fuck was that, Darius?” I yelled. I had meant to deal with this calmly, sit him down and have a marriage meeting. The type of thing mature adults did when conflict arose. Instead, I was red in the face and already yelling. Me—typical me. I pictured Fig lurking under one of the windows listening and softened my tone. God, how did it come to this? How did my life feel so invaded?
“What?” He held out his hands, completely baffled.
“You and Fig! All afternoon. You spent the entire day flirting with each other.”
“You’re crazy,” he said. He knew, he knew I hated those words. It was a dig. I threw the water bottle I was holding at his head. He ducked out of the way and it missed him by an inch. Goddamn, I needed to work on my aim.
“Don’t call me crazy. If you call me crazy I’ll cut off your dick while you’re sleeping and show you what crazy is.” His mouth gaped. “I’m not blind. What you did was completely inappropriate and disrespectful.”
“What? Fucking around with the baseball? I asked you to play!”
“And I didn’t want to. That didn’t mean you skip out on your family and spend the afternoon flirting with a woman you insist is a psycho.”
His face blanched right before my eyes. He turned an awful green color. The color of a rotten, excuse-making pussy. “You’re right,” he said. “I got so caught up with playing baseball. I love baseball. I don’t get to hang like that very often.”
I immediately softened. That was the thing about me—life was a microwave and I was a fucking stick of butter. “I’m sorry,” I rushed. “She was flirting with you. It’s just … some of the things in your past…”
“I know,” he said. “But, I’d never hurt you. You’re my everything. I would never cheat on you, Jolene.”
He put his arms around me and the guilt was so heavy I started to cry. What was wrong with me? Flying off the handle like that … accusing Darius?
“You’re tired,” he said. “Overworked. I’m glad you’re almost finished with this book and can take a break.”
Yes, he was right. I was tired.
I was putting myself under too much strain. I needed to speak with my publisher, tell them that I had to take a break before the next book, take some time for my family. He rubbed my back until I stopped crying.
“She’s falling for you, Darius,” I said. “If she’s not in love with you already.”
“You don’t know how uncomfortable that makes me. I won’t text her anymore, Jo, I won’t. That’s it. I was trying to be nice … for you. Because you like her.”
I knew that was true. He wasn’t much of a social butterfly. He made an effort for me, but at his core he was an introvert and a homebody. This wasn’t his fault; this was my fault. I always took on these projects and my family suffered.
I took a deep breath and nodded. “Don’t hurt her. Or make her feel abandoned. But yes, things have to change.” I wanted to tug the skin on my wrist, but I bit back the urge. I was a grownup. I would handle this without a security blanket. Darius let go of me, walking in the direction of our bedroom.
“Do you think George knows?” I asked, but he was already gone, closing the door softly behind him.
I put the coffee on then wandered over to where my MacBook sat on the kitchen counter. The clock I bought in London last summer ticked over the kitchen sink, a metronome. Think, Jolene. I glanced back at the computer. My screensaver of Mercy was bouncing around from top right to bottom left. I tapped on the mouse pad and Mercy disappeared, replaced by a slew of windows I’d left up that morning. I had work to do, but I’d never be able to concentrate. My brain was choked, working on overdrive, and yet … something wasn’t adding up. What was it?
The music I was listening to that morning was still paused on my screen mid-song. I hit play then poured myself a mug. That’s when it occurred to me to click on Fig’s profile. We were friends, but I’d never looked. Did that make me self-centered or busy? Neither, I thought. You just don’t do that sort of thing. That was Darius’s thing—spying on Fig. I’d just been the ear in the room listening to all of his bitching. Her profile picture was the same one she had on Facebook, a Snapchat crown of golden flowers around her head, skin glowing like it was dusted in gold. She was playing a song even as I snooped around on her profile, my head propped in my hand, a coffee cooling at my elbow. Something by Barbra Streisand I didn’t recognize.