“Why?” I asked. “Oh god. I’m sorry. Forget it, it’s none of my business.”
She shook her head. “Nah. We just aren’t working. We aren’t in love.”
George was in love with Fig. It was all over him, the way he looked at her, what he was willing to put up with. He bent to everything she wanted. I’d often felt sorry for him. She just dismissed everything he did, pretended he wasn’t there.
“I have to go pick Mercy up from school,” I said, standing. If I hurried, I could fit in a quick cry before I left. I looked at the pile of tissues I’d left on the counter, but Fig scooped them up before I could.
“Leave it. Go,” she said. “I’ll bring dinner over tonight so you don’t have to think about it.”
I smiled, stepping out of the kitchen and into the garden. We were both teary eyed as she hugged me goodbye.
I spent my mornings writing. It was supposed to be a book about love, but I wasn’t entirely sure I knew what that was. My fingers were hesitant to type the words, but the words were my duty … my livelihood. I pushed on, saying things I didn’t believe, creating characters too perfect to exist: men who fought for women, men who said all the right things. Were men all cowards? Did I know any good ones? My friends urged me on, told me to write the type of love I wished existed.
At noon, Ryan texted me to ask how it was going. I hadn’t told him anything, not a word. As far as he knew, I was still living my happily ever after.
Fine, I sent. Wrote all morning.
How are you and Darius doing?
How did he do that? He always reached out when I was curled in a corner, in the middle of a fight, or feeling like the loneliest fuck in the world. It’s like there was a string between us, and he could feel the friction on the other end. I narrowed my eyes at his words, reaching nervously for a coffee mug that wasn’t there. Hadn’t I brewed a pot? He never asked directly about Darius. I’d tell him little things here and there, but in general, we stayed away from each other’s personal lives. A rule, but why? Maybe we didn’t like to hear those details.
We’re fine, I sent back. I hated lying to him. If anyone could give me solid advice it would be Ryan.
I stared at the words for a long time. I didn’t know. Were we?
What the hell, Ryan?
A second later my phone rang. I saw Ryan’s number flashing across my screen, and I felt heat crawl up my neck. I had never spoken to him on the phone. I didn’t even remember what his voice sounded like. I thought about not answering it, but we’d just been texting and he’d call bullshit.
“Hello?” Where was my goddamn coffee mug?
“Hey there.” His voice was sexy. I immediately buried my face in the crook of my arm.
“Since when do you call me?” I asked.
“Since now. How are you?”
“The same as I was two minutes ago when we were texting,” I smarted.
He laughed, and I had the urge to sit in a corner and rock back and forth. What the ever living fuck, Jolene?
“I’m okay,” I said. I could hear the somberness in my voice and tried to perk up. “Same ol’ same ol’.”
“You’re not,” he said.
“This is my voice,” I said sternly. “This is who I am.”
If only my voice hadn’t cracked on the last word. Ryan honed into sadness like a fucking bloodhound.
“What did he do?” he asked.
I told him. At the end of it all he was so quiet that I wondered if I’d accidentally hung up on him.
“I’m here,” he said. “Do you want to hear what I think?”
“Yeah,” I said. I had started to cry. The quality of his voice made me cry, the deep, husky concern.
“He promised you a lot and he promised it to someone who needed it to be true. There was a disconnect in your relationship—I don’t know where it stems from or why, but he did know that for once in your life you needed to not be let down. He wasn’t selfless enough to do that.”
Oh fuck it. I just cried. Hard, and on the phone with the guy who’d pretty much been the cause of me finding out that Darius was cheating.
“I have to tell you,” he said after I calmed down. “Something really strange happened last week.”
“Strange?” I asked. “You’re calling to tell me about something strange?”
“Well, yes. It has to do with you.”
“Me?” I repeated.
“You. It’s always about you.”
WHAT DID THAT MEAN? OH MY GOD, WHAT DID THAT MEAN?
I heard him shifting the phone from one shoulder to the other. I wondered what he was doing.
“I got an e-mail. The address wasn’t legit: wink1986. There was an underscore somewhere in there too.”
“Okay…” I heard a hissing noise, and then the sound of metal on metal. He was cooking.
“This is awkward,” he said. “Hold on a minute.” When he spoke again the hissing had stopped and his voice was clear and focused. “The e-mail had videos in it. Of who I presume is your husband.”
“Darius? What kind of videos?”
Ryan cleared his throat. “They’re of a sexual nature.”
Blood rushed to my head. I squeezed my eyes shut and shook my head even though no one could see me.
No, no, no, no.
“Look, I can send them to you, but I’m not sure you want to see them. And I’m also not entirely sure why someone would send them to me, or how they got my e-mail address.”
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