“Oh, she knows,” I said. “On some level, she knows.”
“What did she do now?”
“She said what you just said, word for word, about a husky.”
“It was at Mercy’s birthday party. I overheard her say it to the real estate agent, that friend of yours…”
“Oh,” was all she said. “Yeah, I guess I did tell her that.”
I was thinking about Ryan again, that fucker. He was pretending to be her friend, pretending to care. I had this guy’s number.
There she was pushing her way into our dates again, texting her woes to make Jolene feel sorry for her. I was frustrated, my drink sweating in front of me, untouched. We were supposed to be in Bellevue for dinner and drinks, maybe catch a movie after. I was trying to convince Jolene to see a film nominated for an Oscar, but she hated Robert Redford and was digging her heels in. Usually I could guilt her into seeing a movie I wanted to see, it wasn’t like her to hold out for this long. It was going quite well, we were sitting at the bar in one of Jolene’s favorite restaurants, her knees were brushing against mine, and I could smell her perfume—my favorite. We were laughing and kissing, arguing about this year’s Oscar nominations, when the screen on her phone flashed to notify her that she had a text message. I watched her read it, her face growing dark. I knew that look.
“Fig?” I said.
She nodded, her smile gone. So was the mood. I swear that woman could suck the joy right out of a room.
“She’s only doing this because we’re out together,” I said. “Do you really think it’s a coincidence that she turns into a morbidly depressed alcoholic every time we have a date night?”
“You always think the worst of people,” she said. She was frowning, looking at me like I was the enemy. “She’s having a hard time. I’m trying to help. I just want her to see that life can be good. She has no one and George is so withdrawn.”
I could have answered her in a nicer way, kept my tone even and my voice low, but I was so fed up with all of it. Not being able to have my wife alone for one night a month, not being able to say what I really wanted to say. Not being able to control myself.
“Goddamnit, Jolene. Stop being so stupid.” I was loud. The bartender glanced up at us from the other side of the bar.
When Jolene looked at me her eyes were cold. I’d crossed a line. She didn’t like to be embarrassed, and I’d raised my voice to her in public. She stood up without a word and walked out of the restaurant, leaving me there alone. I cursed, yanking my wallet out of my pocket and dropping two twenties on the bar. That had not gone the way I’d planned. I’d wanted to have a nice night, maybe bring up the lawsuit on the way home after I spent the night reminding her of how good we are together. I’d planned on laying out my sob story; the girl had a bad case of transference. She’d come on to me and when I rejected her she wanted to make me pay. And that was the truth, wasn’t it? Jolene had a way of ruining things with her moods. I’d planned this beautiful night for us and she treated me with disrespect, storming out on me and acting like a child.
I wasn’t going to bother trying to find her. She’d be lost somewhere in the maze of the mall or had likely gone to another restaurant for a drink. I’d catch an uber home and leave her with the car. I stopped for another drink at a bar further along the strip, one where I wasn’t eyed for raising my voice at my own wife. I drank two, and by the time I left, I forgot what we’d been arguing about in the first place. I took out my phone to text her, but then I saw her as I was passing Schmick’s Seafood, perched at the bar with a martini. I watched her for a good minute before opening the door and going in. Things were not going well for me. I needed her help, or I’d end up with nowhere to live and a suspended license that wouldn’t let me practice.
“Jolene,” I said, coming up behind her. “I’m so sorry. You’re right. I’m selfish. I just want you to myself sometimes.” She spun around on her barstool and I could tell she’d been crying.
“You’re an asshole,” she said.
“I am, you’re right.”
I grabbed her face, kissed her forehead. She was stiff, unbelieving. I always had to work her extra hard, massage her shoulders, play with her hair.
“Jo, I want to help Fig, I do. I’m just tired and stressed. Listen, tell her to meet us here.”
I thought she was going to start crying again, but she pulled it together and nodded.
“She’s in a parking lot somewhere crying,” she said. I wanted to roll my eyes, but I nodded sympathetically and rubbed her neck.
I shrugged. “I know your heart. Do whatever you think is right, my love.”
When I first knew I wanted Jolene, I was still in a relationship with her best friend. I’d look. Men look even when they say they aren’t. We are sexual creatures: long legs, the outline of nipples against flimsy fabric, the cupping of jeans against an ass—we look and our dicks get hard. We’re wired that way. Some of the more self-righteous men, the fucking pious ones, say they don’t look. They say they avoid the appearance of evil, aka the type of women who make their dicks hard. It’s not women who make my dick hard; it’s my ability to control their emotions.
Jolene was something else to me. She transcended the games I played. When we were just friends, she’d look me in the eye and tell me I was lying when I was. She’d ask how I was and mean it. Sometimes she’d text me randomly to check on the state of my heart. That was her thing back then: “How’s your heart?” and you could try to lie to her, try to pretend, but she always knew. The confessions were like vomit. Jolene was the finger down your throat, probing until there was nothing else to do but gag. The truth came fast and hard, and it hurt. I think I grew addicted to the sort of reaction she inspired. You got to be yourself, tell her your ugliest parts, and she didn’t bat an eyelash. She was the real therapist; I was merely a pretender. I’d broken off my ten-year relationship and pursued her with an intensity I wasn’t used to. It didn’t matter that she was pregnant with another man’s child. It didn’t matter that my ex-fiancée loved her. You couldn’t fit love into the eye of a needle. You had to just take it in the form it came. And it came in the form of a very pregnant, very taboo—Jolene Avery. The girl who saw everything and nothing all at the same time.
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