Chapter 10: Martin
Susan looks at me blankly.
Wow, she must really be tired. No problem. I’ll help her out.
“You’ve been so upbeat lately, and your skin is really glwoing. So I thought, well, could you be expecting?”
“What? You mean like expecting a baby? No way.”
“All that stuff about pregnant women glowing is just folklore. Trust me, if I was expecting, I’d be throwing up every morning. Thank goodness I’m not pregnant.”
She must be joking. It’s not very funny, but that must be what’s happening. Maybe she’s just super scared.
“It’s okay, I’d be nervous too if I was having a baby. I mean, we’ve waited so long for a child, it must be just . . . mind-blowing to find out you’re gonna be a mom after all this time.”
She frowns at me.
“I don’t know what’s going on, or why you’ve got this idea that I’m pregnant,, but I most definitely am not, so can we please stop talkng about it? Getting pregnant would be the worst thing that could happen to me. So can we just forget about it?”
How can she say this? And why would it be the worst thing for her?
“But what about the candle? What was it for, if not to tell me you’re expecting?”
“I have no idea. You were staring at the cupboard, so I got one out. Anyway, I’d better clear up and wash these dishes. Then I’ll make that chocolate cake.”
She extinguishes the candle, turns the light on, and starts picking up our empty plates.
How can she be so heartless?
As I lie awake that night, I realize what she meant about not wanting to become pregnant.
She’s having an affair, so a baby, either mine or his, would make it harder for her to go out and meet him. She’d have to stay inside if it was cold, and she wouldn’t risk inviting him here.
I cry into my pillow and am happy she’s too tired to hear me.
The house smells wonderufl, but our marriage stinks.
Now the question is, what am I going to do about it?
The first thing I need to do is find out who she’s having the affair with.
Yes, and then what?
I could beat up any man alive, but that wouldn’t make Susan see reason. In fact, it would probably drive her even further into this crazy mess, and she’d sit by his bedside, hold his limp hand, and tell him she loved him.
Not good, and if he died of his wounds, well, that’d be even worse.
Besides, Mom would never forgive me, and Dad’s ghost would always haunt me.
No, I’ll have to find some other way to break them up.
First, I really need to know who it is.
I’m sure she meets him while I’m at work, so there’s no way to find out until the new year.
And when that comes, how do I find out? I’m sure she’s not meeting him on Thursdays or Sundays, because I’m home all day, so it must be on one of the other days.
I’ll have to take a week off, leave the house, and then come back and watch to see where she goes.
I guess I’ll be spying on her, but she’s cheating on me, so I don’t feel too bad about it.
My next problem is how to watch the house. She knows my car, and I can’t sit around outside in the cold, even if there was a good place to hide.
I’ll have to try and sleep on it.
“This is delicious,” Mom says. She’s sitting to my right, and Susan’s across from me. Mom has just taken a bite of the strawberry shortcake Susan has made for her visit.
“Thanks. How was your Christmas?”
“Oh, it was lovely. I chatted with many of the women, and the children were delightfully playful. Everyone smiled so much and kept hugging me. Many of them have had such a difficult time, but they love Christmas.”
“How long have you been working there?”
“Oh, about two months. The other staff members are inspiring, and it’s so nice to see the children smile and play. I miss having a child in my home.”
“Doesn’t the noise drive you bananas?”
“No, I love listening to them talk and play.”
“What about when they cry? Even if I hear it for a few minutes at the supermarket, it gives me a pounding headache. I can’t imagine listening to that for hours in my own home.”
“Some mothers let their children cry, so that might be the reason it bothers you so much, but I never let Martin cry for long.”
When Mom says she’d better go home, Susan offers her the rest of the cakes and pies she’s made.
“Martin was going to take these to work, but we forgot he’s not going back until next week. We can’t possibly eat all this, so I thought maybe the people at the shelter might like them.”
The rest of my week off is never-ending. Susan is nice to me, but there’s something impossibly bright about her attitude. She’s all glare and hard edges when I want soft light and gentle curves.
Finally, it’s January 2, and I eat breakfast and drive to work.
“This is gonna be our last shared workout,” Melanie says. It’s the first Monday in January, and Frank looks as surprised as I am to hear her say this.
“Why’s that?” he asks. “I love working out with you.”
“Sorry, I didn’t mean that to sound unfriendly. I’ll still be here, but won’t need a session. I may not always use the bikes, but I’ll be in the gym and will ask Luke if I need help with the settings.”
Why did Tim have to pick Mondays to switch with Luke?
“That makes sense,” Frank says. “Say, what do you think of yoga and the class Karin’s teaching?”
“They’re both great,” she says.
Frank looks at me.
“Are they good for an old man like me?”
“I haven’t tried either of them, so you should ask Karin and Luke.”
He does, and the next Monday, he tells us he’s joining both of them.
“Karin’s class is on Tuesdays, and yoga is on Thursdays.”
Melanie smiles at him.
“We’ll be in the same classes. Did I tell you I’ve bought a bike?”
“An exercise bike or a transportation bike?” he asks.
“An exercise bike. So today will be my last day on this one. The one I bought is a lot more comfortable.”
That’s it. I won’t see Melanie anymore. I might be able to say hi to her on Tuesdays, but that’s all, and it’ll be in the waiting room, so somebody else will always be around.
I really should take a week off work and find out what Susan’s doing. I’ve thought it through and come up with a plan. The only problem is me. I don’t want to know who she’s meeting, so I put it off.
It’s a freezing cold Tuesday morning in late January, and I’m stepping out of my car when I see Melanie getting out of hers.
I feel lighter and warmer already, and we haven’t even said a word.
“Hi. How are you?”
“I’m happy to see you.”
“Me too. I was wondering, um, can we do lunch?”
“Yeah, or dinner.”
“Lunch would be great. Would tomorrow be okay? I don’t have anybody at eleven, so I can take a long lunch.”
She thinks for a few seconds and names a French restaurant.
“See you tomorrow.”
“Sure will. It’s nice that we don’t have to be professional with each other, now that I’m no longer your client.”
She grins at me and I hear a car pull to a stop and then I see the last person I want to lay eyes on.
“Hey Melanie, you’re early.”
Has he seen us talking? What if he tells everybody?
“Yeah, I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d come and practice some yoga before Karin’s class.”
He smiles at her, says hi to me, and walks into the building.
“Sorry,” she says. “I would have called, but I wanted to see you face-to-face when I asked you out. Next time, I’ll call.”
As I enter the building behind her, I hope Rick will think we were just saying hi. If he figures out that we’re planninf a date, I wouldn’t put it past him to tell Susan. Thank God he doesn’t know she’s cheating on me, or the whole world would probably know by now.
At 1:45, Connie arrives.
Rick barely says hi before he runs off to where Karin’s teaching her class.
I don’t have a client until 2:30, and there’s nothing much to do in my office, so I figure I’ll chat with Connie for a few minutes.
When I look at her, I notice she’s crying.
“Are you okay?”
She shakes her head.
“Your son? Is he sick?”
She shakes her head.
“His dad’s name is also Albert. He . . . he . . . he left me.”
She grabs a Kleenex and wipes her eyes.
“I saw her. She came to our house to pick him up. He told me to pack all his stuff. She’s half his age. Half my age. Albert, I mean my son, was there. They didn’t even have the courtesy to do this while he was at school. He heard everything she said.”
“I’m sorry Connie. Do you want to tell me?”
“She picked up a bag of his stuff and said, ‘Don’t try to make trouble for us. My family’s rich, and we know all the lawyers in the state, so the only battle you’ll win is custody of the kid.’ She was mean enough to point to him, to make sure he knew she was talking about him.”
She wipes her face again.
“She didn’t even have to do that. I wasn’t going to fight with him. I don’t know if I have the money to support us without him, so it’s not like I’m gonna hire a lawyer.”
“You should. He’ll have to pay child support.”
“But she said she knows all the lawyers.”
“She was trying to scare you. Hire a lawyer. Go after him for as much as you can get.”
“I loved him. Why is he doing this to me? Why is he letting her do this to poor Albert? He’s never done anything to disappoint either of us. He gets straight A’s.” The ghost of a smile touches her lips.
She loves her child. Susan’s like her unfaithful husband.
I step behind the desk and give Connie a hug.
“Thanks,” she says, and hugs me back.
The door opens, and Melanie comes in.
Connie lets go of me and I come out from behind the desk.
She must be in a hurry, because she doesn’t say hi.
No problem. Tomorrow, we’ll have plenty of time to say hi, and more.
At 11:00 the next morning, I walk into the restaurant. I look for her, but she’s not there. Maybe traffic is bad.
I sit down at a table for two.
She’s usually early, but maybe she got a phone call or something just before she left.
“Can I get you anything, sir?” A man with a French accent is at the table.
“I’m waiting for somebody, so just a cup of coffee please.”
“Certainly. Would you prefer a regular coffee, or would a latte be more convivial?”
I have no idea what that word means, nor do I like lattes, so I ask him for a regular coffee.
I sit there for two hours, and then I have to go back to work.
I must have gotten the day or time wrong. That’s all I can think of.
I’ll call her when I’m between clients and we’ll reschedule. No big deal.
I end up having to wait until I’m in my car on the way home.
I enter her cell number.
It rings and then goes to voicemail.
I don’t want her calling me back while I’m at home, so I don’t leave a message.
I try her landline.
“Hi,” a man says. “How’s it going?”
Definitely not her dad. He sounds like he’s about twenty. Maybe he’s the reason she didn’t show up today. Well, talking to him is a bad idea.
“Is this Clay’s Cleaners?”
“Clay’s Cleaners? No, this is a house.”
“Sorry, wrong number.”
“Don’t sweat it, pal.”
I put the phone down.
What I can’t understand is why she asked me out and then stood me up. She didn’t strike me as the kind of person who’d do something like that. She’s planning to have a baby, so why the games?
Calling her is too risky, so I’ll have to try to talk to her when she comes for a class.
That means I’ll have to wait until Saturday.
I spend the next two days wondering what I’ll say to Melanie.
On Saturday morning, my stomach is full of butterflies. Heck, I haven’t felt this nervous in years.
As she usually is, she’s early. I don’t try to talk to her before her yoga class, but wait until she leaves.
“I’ll be right back,” I say to the client who’s just arrived. “I need to go to my car for a bottle of water.”
Do I sound unnatural? I hope he doesn’t notice.
Rick is there, and there’s no way I’m going to let him hear me talking to her.
I run outside and catch up to her just as she’s about to close her car door.
She pauses and looks at me.
Her blue eyes are hard.
“What happened on Wednesday? I sat in that place and waited for you.”
“Yeah, and then you called and pretended to be looking for Clay’s Cleaners. I’m serious about dating, and I’m not looking for somebody like you who plays games with women’s hearts. Now, if you don’t mind, I need to go home.”
“Wait, what are you talking about? I wasn’t playing games with anybody’s heart, least of all yours.”
“So making out with Connie was just what, a little fun at work where everybody could see you? Oh, I don’t want to be seen talking to a client outside of the office, but kissing a colleague is just fine? Is that how it works?”
“You should talk. We had a date and here you are, playing around with my heart, making me sit there for two hours drinking coffe when you had no intention of coming. The least you could have done was called me and told me you’d found somebody else. So who’s playing games with whose heart?”
“I haven’t found anybody else yet.”
“What about that kid who answered the phone?”
“That was Joseph, my brother, you idiot!”
“Yeah, well Connie was sad, and I only gave her a hug, you idoot!”
We stare into each other’s eyes. Hers look a little less hard and a little unsure.
“I didn’t know you had a brother.”
“Now you do. I have a mom, a dad, a brother, and a sister. You?”
“I’m an only child. How’d you her about the Clay’s Cleaners thing?”
“I heard Joseph on the phone and then I checked the number and it was you. So you’re not dating Connie?”
“No. We’re friends.”
“Okay. I’m sorry. You’re right, I should have called you. Can we remake that date?”
“How about tonight.”
I’ll call Susan and tell her I’m working late.
Chapter 10: Martin