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“Okay…”

“Post a picture on Instagram with a crazy color—something hard to get. Make it look like you painted the wall.”

She made a face, shaking her head. “You want me to play games with her? How is that healthy for anyone?”

“I want to show you how desperate she is to be you,” I said, grabbing her phone and pushing it into her hands.

“Why are you doing this? Why do you hate her so much?”

“I don’t.” I sighed. “I’m just trying to protect you.”

“Really?” she said. “Is it me you’re trying to protect?”

I doubted myself. I had to refocus, convince her. This wasn’t about me getting caught. It was about me doing the right thing.

“I’m your husband, it’s my job.”

“I’m aware,” she said, smiling faintly. “But you married me because I was the kind of girl who didn’t need protecting. That was the draw.”

I’d never said that to her, but it was true. My last relationship ended because of how needy and exhausting she’d been. Sometimes I forgot how much Jolene saw.

“So, you’d rather I not care? Wasn’t that your biggest complaint about Rey?” It was a low blow and I knew it. Rey was Mercy’s biological father. She left him before Mercy was born, and he had little to do with her, being that he lived in Alaska.

“Yes,” she said, simply. Her eyes were boring into me. What had she caught wind of? I knew that look. “You’re doing that thing you do when you’re trying to distract me,” she said.

I think I paled, but who knows. I felt the blood rush from my head. This is why I loved her: she saw.

“What do you mean?”

“I accuse you, you accuse me. It’s typical Darius.” She walked to the bathroom and started brushing her teeth.

“Look,” I called after her, “make-out with her if you want. Get matching tattoos—I don’t care—it’s your life. Don’t believe the shrink when he says your new BFF doesn’t have your best interest at heart.”

“Well, what if I told you I already knew that.” She bent over the sink to spit.

I was scared of my wife in that moment. I got hard.

When she walked back into the bedroom she handed me her phone.

“Play your games,” she said. “Let’s see if you’re right.”

So free with her phone. What if that fucker Ryan texted while I had it? Didn’t she care that I’d find out? Maybe she didn’t. It wasn’t the first time I’d gotten the impression that Jolene wouldn’t hesitate to tell me to fuck off if I stepped over one of her lines. There was also the fact that I couldn’t hand her my phone even if I wanted to. It was a ticking bomb of incrimination.

I tapped her internet browser and searched paint colors until I found one of a bright teal metallic paint we’d had in our first house. Jolene had seen it in a magazine and it had been hard as fuck to find once she announced that’s what she wanted. The photo was of a wall half painted, a roller propped on a ladder. It could easily pass as our house. I took a screenshot, cropped it, and posted it to her Instagram wall with a cheerful:

New paint!

I handed the phone back to her.

“I don’t use exclamation marks,” she said, blandly.

I took the phone back, deleted the excitable punctuation and said, “Wait and see.” Then I pulled her onto my lap and let her ride me. No use wasting a good erection, even if you were afraid your wife was crazier than you.

I was sitting in my office at work, reading a conversation that was transpiring between Fig and my wife on the iPad. It was like reality television, you never knew what was going to happen or who would say what. They were discussing the merits of being with someone like Ryan. How perceptive he was. How sensitive and yet masculine. How beautiful his lips were. I’d scrolled through pictures of the guy on social media, and to be honest, I just didn’t see it.

To Jolene’s credit, she tried to change the subject multiple times, but Fig was relentless. I watched all of it with a mixture of anger and amusement. Fig Coxbury was working my wife just as hard as she was working me. A professional manipulator. The topic switched to Jolene’s ailing father. I was getting bored, but then Fig found a way to work Ryan into the conversation.

What will you do when your father dies? Darius hasn’t been there for you. You need someone who can help you emotionally.

Jolene took a few minutes to reply. I imagined she was folding laundry, or making herself a drink. She liked to drink in the day when no one was around to judge her.

I think he’s just distracted with work. Busy. He doesn’t know how to check on me in the way I want. We all have our own love languages, you know?

He’s a fucking shrink. Isn’t he supposed to have the love languages memorized? That’s a lousy excuse. I can see how you must feel. You have this other guy who always checks on you and knows what to say. He’s also gorgeous. By the way, I think Darius is intimidated by you.

Jolene didn’t answer her for a long time, and when she did it was about something else. She didn’t even mention what Fig said. That didn’t stop me from being angry, angry that she’d even entertain this sort of talk. She was mine, goddamnit. She should be showing loyalty to me, to what we had together. Despite her dismissal of what most of Fig said, I knew it was taking root. My wife was susceptible to heartfelt whispering. If she loved you, she assumed you loved her too, and had her best interest at heart. A naiveté I’d always found charming. But, Fig was using it to her advantage, playing Jolene’s emotions. She didn’t even know Ryan, yet the seeds of doubt she was planting in Jolene’s mind were growing—I could see it in the way Jolene looked at me. It used to be with adoration, but lately I saw disappointment in her eyes. Then she’d ask these questions when we were together: How come you never ask me how I am? Do you just assume I’m fine? I’m vulnerable even if I don’t let on. And at a different time in my life, I would have been better about checking in with her, but Jolene was right, I was distracted, and she never showed weakness—and I didn’t go looking for it. How was I supposed to know she wanted me to check on her? And while Fig was telling Jolene that she needed someone better suited for her than I was, she was playing the part of the sexy, flirtatious friend with me. She made jokes about Jolene being a dictator, and I didn’t correct her, I liked it. Perhaps she was the type of person who could be friends with us both. See each unique perspective for what it was and not take sides.

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