Driving through North Carolina on Interstate 95 seems to take forever, especially if you are in a car with pouty man who is ticked off because he has to spend the summer driving his wife all over the country instead of lounging in the arms of a blond twenty year old receptionist. Poor, poor baby.
At least Snow is happy about going on the trip. I wonder if she will feel the same in a few days. Or weeks.
As for Chris, he hasn’t taken a single minute to think about what the trip has done to me. I own a small store that sells yarn, crochet and knitting books, and every accessory anyone needs for a knitting or crocheting hobby–from tote bags to carry yarn, to crochet and knitting kits that come complete with yarn, directions and even the appropriately sized hook or needle.
My store has never made a fortune, netting only about $10,000 to $15,000 in profit each year, but it is a neighborhood fixture. It is a piazza where knitters and crocheters come to socialize, knit and crochet, and drink freshly brewed coffee. Abigail Grint came to work with me almost three years ago and proved to be a master at teaching needle arts. She conducts several classes a week, orders supplies and generally keeps things running. Leaving her for the summer months didn’t seem a hardship as that is a slow time in my business, anyway. I gave her carte blanche to open and close when she felt like it. I gave her a raise, a hug and left my store in her care. I hope it would still be there when I return. Still I worried about what changes she would wrought in the store that I opened and ran alone for almost ten years before her arrival. Would she change displays, order coffee from a different vendor, change my inventory of yarn to the more exotic textures and colors? A small business owner is crazy to just leave their store for several months. While the cat’s away, and all that.
Chris steered the Cayenne into a convenience store along the interstate. I went inside the store catering to travelers, by offering several fast food options, souvenirs, clothing and thankfully, a restroom. I bought a fizzy drink and a burger before returning to the car. Chris emerged from the store to light up a cigarette. He stood outside to smoke and did not try to smoke in the car. If he had done it, he would have to finish this journey on his own.
I put the leash on Snow and took her to a grassy area to pee and then we returned to the car. I gave her some water and then she settled back onto her bed.
When Chris slid into the driver’s seat, he smelled of smoke. I opened the window on my side of the car and endured his glare as he pulled out of the parking spot and back into the traffic on the Interstate.
“You going to give me a blast of crap about my smoking?” he asked me.
“No. I just opened the window because I do not like the way it smells. I never have. I never will. And you smell like smoke.”
“Love me, love my cigarettes.”
“I don’t love either right now.”
His face fell and his face moved from a surly expression to a child who broke his favorite toy in less than a second. “You don’t love me?”
“Yes, I love you, but I am so angry with you.”
“That’s why you keep saying things to deliberately hurt my feelings.”
“What did you expect from me?” I demanded.
“I expected you to be understanding.”
“Are you kidding me? Understanding? Just let you go on with your affair without saying anything? Just let you spend night after night with your girlfriend, who is nearly as young as your daughter? Just let you spend money taking her to fancy restaurants and buying her a very expensive diamond bracelet? Is that the understanding you are talking about?”
He took a deep breath and then said, “I didn’t know you knew about the bracelet.”
“I am the one who pays the bills, genius. I saw the credit card bill for a bracelet and what a surprise. You didn’t give it to me or to Lily. You didn’t even try to cover your tracks. I paid the credit card bills for the dinners, lunches, hotel rooms. Everything. I have a record of your journey into that sordid affair.”
“Is that what first tipped you off? American Express?”
“American Express just confirmed it. All those times you told me you were working late. Imagine my shock when I took a pizza to your office on one of those nights you were working late and the office was closed up, tight as a drum.”
He fell into another sulk breathing sharply in and out. Fine with me. I wasn’t in the mood for talking, either.
I actually discovered his affair, accidently. When I asked him why he wasn’t at the office when I took the pizza there, he told me he and Ben went for a drink after they finished working. He apologized and I believed him.
Two days later, I saw Chris and Kathy just as they were leaving a restaurant during the lunch hour. Again, I didn’t make the connection right away. I walked towards them to say hello until I saw him take her hand while they walked to his car. He leaned over to kiss her before he pulled out of the parking lot. I went back to my car and sat in there for several minutes, dumbfounded. After that incident, I started looking and the clues were everywhere. I found love letters from her and condoms in his briefcase. He put a framed picture of her in his desk drawer in his home office. He even left a pair of her underwear in the pocket of his suit jacket. How could I have been so blind to the signs?
The worst thing that happened when I discovered his girlfriend was the complete loss of trust. I found myself examining every word, every conversation for lies. Every memory changed from marital bliss to suspicions. Suddenly, I trusted nothing he said or did. He would go into the bathroom at home, and I assumed he texted her while doing his business. The longer it went on, the more distrustful I became.
Innocence lost in that one act of watching him kiss another woman. I changed in that instant from a happy wife to a raging shrew.
I alternated from anger to depression and back to anger. Depression because I felt responsible for his wandering eyes. I watched myself in the mirror, making comparisons between her and me. Younger than me, she wore a youthful glow. Her abdomen lay flat as a carpet. One of those size zero girls.
I, on the other hand, wore a size sixteen. Not enormous, rather curvy. Scrutiny in the bedroom mirror did nothing to assuage my inferior feelings. Heavy thighs, bulge on my tummy from childbirth, drooping boobs from breastfeeding. I wore my hair in a casual short cut for comfort and ease of care. A few gray strands stood in stark contrast to the dark blond waves. My blue eyes, made bluer with my contacts, seemed to be the only redeeming feature, but even they sported wrinkles in the corners.
In comparing myself to Kathy, I fell short in every aspect. Fatter, older, grayer, more wrinkled. What did Chris ever see in me? Other than pregnancy, I never gained huge amounts of weight. I weigh now nearly what I did when we married. Maybe he never really loved me at all. Maybe he only married so he would have someone to wash his skivvies and make his dinner. A mother. Not a wife.
Chris pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road and at the Welcome to South Carolina sign, I took a selfie of the two of us, both of us frowning badly. Without a word, I walked back to the Cayenne, slammed the door, fastened my seatbelt and emailed the photo to Mr. Cartwright.