BY DEBORAH LEAN
Deborah Lean is a mixed media artist and writer living near Cobourg, ON. Copyright is held by the author.
CASSIE STUDIED HER FACE in the mirror as she brushed her long hair into a ponytail, twisted, and held it with a clip. The dark, auburn tresses were streaked with grey at the temples, more than last year, she thought. Age was creeping up on her, taking it’s toll on her face and body. Oh, to be 20 again, no, 30 was going back far enough.
That was all part of the what-if game she often found herself playing. A game where she got lost in a fantasy, where life was full of possibilities and dreams…and reality disappeared, for a short time, giving her a momentary respite from the day’s demands.
Enough daydreaming, she had work to do. Exiting the bathroom, she picked up the laundry basket and made a tour of the bedrooms, picking up all the scattered pieces of dirty clothes. Maybe if she made it a game, a tisket, a tasket, dirty clothes go in the basket, maybe then her family would succeed in putting more clothes in the basket than were strewn all over the floor. There would have to be a prize, she thought, some incentive, for sure they would never do it just to be neat or to make it easy on mom.
She sorted the wash, checking pockets as she loaded the machine. Once she’d missed a red marker that had run the cycle and ruined a full load of clothes. Sometimes she found important things; like her daughter’s student card, her son’s bike key, and today…what’s this? Cassie pulled the matchbook from her husband’s pocket and looked at the logo on the cover…The Wayfarer’s Inn.
Suddenly she couldn’t breathe, her heart beat wildly in her chest and she threw the matches in the garbage, as if on fire and burning her hand. She wrapped her arms across her chest, pacing about the laundry room, thinking about what this could mean.
It was such a cliché, she thought. The poor wife at home, finding evidence of her husband’s affair and she…does what? Does she confront him with what she’s found, hide it or…kill him, the rat bastard. She could feel the tears coming and felt as if her whole world was about to collapse around her.
“NO, no, no.” She stuffed the rest of the clothes in the washer, added the detergent, no longer caring what might be in the pockets. She’d welcome a marker that would ruin the clothes, over a matchbook that had the potential to ruin her life.
What was she doing, she thought, and slammed the washer lid closed. This was Rob, the man she’d been married to for almost twenty years; her husband, her best friend, her soul mate. How could she accuse him, if just in her thoughts, and find him guilty based on such pitiful evidence.
Was she so insecure that she could doubt him so quickly, so easily? To have even a moment of doubt hurt incredibly, for this was the man she loved, and the thought of not growing old with him was…unthinkable.
Cassie ran up the stairs and along the hall to the master bedroom. Catching sight of herself in the mirrored closet door, she stopped and stared. What did Rob see when he looked at her? Dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, her feet bare, she looked more haus frau than trophy wife. If she neglected herself could she blame him, if he neglected her too?
Suddenly she was feeling a little lost, and realized all those nice, what-if fantasies were hiding an unhappiness she hadn’t wanted to confront. How could she explain feeling unfulfilled and unhappy when, supposedly, she had everything. She had a great husband, two wonderful kids, a lovely home, and yet, something was missing…and that something, was herself.
All her personal dreams and ambitions had been pushed aside by the needs of the family, only to resurface in day dreams. She’d let it happen, let it continue…because she didn’t know what would happen if she were to rock the boat, so to speak, of their smooth sailing ship. But if she was unhappy, and she had to admit she was, that ship had already hit rough waters.
The kids, the house and Rob’s work had taken all their time and attention and they’d let the couple take second, more like fourth place. Win, place, or show, fourth place was never in contention.
If Rob had been finding some moment of happiness with someone else, if his plan was to leave her, it would break her heart. The challenge was to find herself again, and from that position of strength, she would deal with whatever else happened.
Back in the kitchen she pulled the newspaper out of the recycling and turned the pages until she found the ad she’d skimmed over before. Art classes at the new art supply store downtown. Before she lost her nerve, Cassie called and signed up for the classes starting that week. Painting had always been her creative outlet, but when the kids came along it had been hard to find the time and space to indulge what her mother had called her little hobby. Strange, she was remembering now, it had been Rob who, when she had put her paints away, had encouraged her to keep painting.
After making some other phone calls, while in this proactive mood, Cassie felt a little better by the end of the day. Whenever she thought about Rob, she had to push back and bury, the misery and mad she felt at what might be his betrayal.
She should have known she couldn’t hide her change in mood from Rob, and could sense him watching her. That was just fine, for she was watching him too.
The night of her first art class, while holding back a laugh at their surprise, Cassie told her family she was going out. She gave them instructions for dinner, told the kids to clean up after they ate and hurried out the door. Do them good to fend for themselves, she thought. If she felt like a maid at
times, it was because she had let her family treat her like one.
Over the next few weeks, Cassie was feeling better about things, despite the fact she didn’t know anything more about Rob, and any possible indiscretion. She had her weekly art classes and frequently used the open studio time the shop provided. Her new attitude carried over into other relationships, meeting friends for lunch, or for dinner and a movie.
She had her hair coloured and styled, the easy pony tail gone the way of other areas of self neglect. Her figure, though still trim, was soft and she was out of shape. Taking advantage of the family membership at the Y, she started an exercise class for ladies, held in the afternoon. Deciding her new look deserved some new clothes, she shed the jeans and Ts for a more stylish wardrobe.
Cassie tried hard not to feel guilty, like the night her daughter whined about her skinny jeans not being washed and she’d told her to wash them herself. The kids were learning to do for themselves and to accept her busy schedule. It was Rob’s behaviour that surprised her, taking up the slack in parenting that her absence from the home created. He never complained, if anything, he’d supported her.
One night, fresh from the shower, she found herself standing in front of the mirrored closet door, just as she had those weeks before. This time, she was not the matronly looking housewife in shapeless jeans and a scruffy shirt. This time, she was looking svelte and sexy in Victoria’s Secret black lingerie. This time, she smiled, liking the changes she was seeing.
“Boy, that’s an outfit I haven’t seen before,” Rob said from where he stood in the doorway. “Are you sure you have to go out?” He crossed the room and sat on the side of the bed, watching her.
Feeling a little uncomfortable with the sudden intimacy, something she had avoided in the last few weeks, she hurried to dress. “I’m meeting the girls for dinner and we were going to the show after,” she said. “I told you this morning, remember?”
“I remember,” he told her. “You’ve been so busy of late, I feel like I need to make an appointment to have any time with you.”
Uncomfortable with this conversation, not sure where it might lead, Cassie tried to laugh it off. “That’s ridiculous,” she said as she pulled on a black, silky blouse.
“Well, I’ve wanted to talk to you about something, but it never seemed the right time.”
That stopped her cold; the time had finally come, he was going to tell her about the affair, he didn’t love her anymore. If that was what he had to say she didn’t want him to say it there, not in the bedroom they’d shared for so many years. That would be just too painful.
“Tell you what, I’ll call Linda and tell her I can’t make it, and you and I can go out for a bite to eat, and talk.” As she spoke Cassie casually wandered into the bathroom, as if to check her makeup, or brush her hair. She couldn’t look at his face, afraid she’d see his relief at finally being able to tell her.
“Are you sure you wouldn’t mind?” Rob stood and walked to the door of the bathroom, watching her.
“No, not at all, it’ll be fun,” she assured him. “Tell the kids we’re going out, and I’ll meet you at the car.” After he left the room, she made a quick call to her friend, making up an excuse while trying to hold back the tears. With a shake of her head, she straightened her shoulders, took a deep breath, and followed her husband down the stairs and out to the car.
The trip to the restaurant was made in near silence, what conversation there was, was stilted and awkward. Within minutes they were seated, facing each other across the table, enclosed in their private space by the high back of the booth. Once the waitress had taken their drink order they looked over the menu, another tactic to avoid conversation.
Their drinks arrived, and with their dinner selections made, the silence was uncomfortable, for both of them. “Well, cheers,” Rob said and tapped his bottle of beer against hers.
“Yeah, cheers,” she replied with a voice that was anything but cheery.
“Did I tell you how much I liked your hair?” he asked.
Cassie shook her head and looked at him, thinking how far they’d fallen to have to search for conversation. She was saved from any response by the arrival of their meal. Neither seemed to have much appetite, moving more food around the plate than they actually ate.
“Cassie, this is a terrible thing to say,” Rob said, “but I have to ask.” He reached across the table for her hand. “Are you having an affair?”
“What?” Cassie couldn’t believe what she was hearing, and jerked her hand out of his grasp. “What do you mean, am I having an affair?” she demanded.
“You’re out all the time lately, and you seem to be pulling away from us.” Rob looked so sad, thinking she was about to break his heart. Cassie knew just how that felt.
“Rob, I’m not having an affair, I thought you were,” she explained.
“Me? Why would you ever think that?” he asked, shocked at the very idea.
“Weeks ago, I found a matchbook in your jeans pocket, from the Wayfarer’s Inn. You never mentioned being there, and I’m afraid I thought the worst, that you were having an affair.”
“I wasn’t having an affair,” he said. “I was planning one.”
“What, you were meeting someone, and during the conversation you plan to have an affair? Is that how it works?” she questioned, her mad returning full force.
“No, I was planning a big affair, a 40th birthday party for my wife. It was going to be a surprise.”
“Oh…Rob, I’m so sorry.” Cassie laughed, realizing how silly they had been.
“Wait, if you weren’t having an affair, what brought about all these changes?”
“I don’t know how to explain, it all seems so foolish now.”
“Cassie, please tell me what’s going on.”
“I was feeling a little lost, and unhappy, without understanding why. When I thought you were having an affair I took a good look at myself, and didn’t like what I saw. I’d let everything go, in taking care of the family, and I was beginning to resent you and the kids, because I was feeling lonely and unfulfilled. I missed my friends, I missed my painting and most of all I missed you, missed us.”
“So, the changes were…what? To show me what I’d be missing, if I had been having an affair?”
“No, they were to make me stronger, more content. So, if you did leave me, I’d forever miss you, but I would survive without you.”
“And now, now that you know I’m not going anywhere, what are you thinking?”
“I’m thinking I was very foolish not to have talked to you about my feelings, and very foolish to have ever thought you would be unfaithful.” Cassie was unsure of Rob’s mood as he got up from the booth and took her hand, pulling her along behind him. He quickly paid the bill and led her out to the car.
“Rob, is everything OK?” she asked, concerned with his rush to leave the restaurant.
“Did I tell you how happy I am you’re painting again?” he asked.
“Did I tell you how happy I am that you’ve reconnected with your friends?”
“No,” she replied, wondering where this conversation was going.
When they arrived back at the house Rob parked the car, turned the engine off, and twisted in the seat to face his wife.
“Did I tell you how extremely happy I am…that you’re not wearing the sexy underwear for another man?”
“It’s Victoria’s Secret,” she told him with a smile.
“Ah, well, that says it all.”
“And what is that?” she asked.
“That only the most beautiful, the most sexy women wear Victoria’s Secret.” He opened the door and got out, racing around the car to open her door. When she stood, he moved in close, trapping her in the open door, putting his arms around her. He brought his mouth to hers and kissed her with such sensuality, she thought she could feel her toes curl.
“I’m going to take you upstairs, and take a nice, long look at you, in your Victoria’s Secret,” he told her as they walked to the front door. “And then, ever so slowly, I’m going to remove it, and prove to you, my beautiful wife, that you are one sexy woman. What do you think of that?”
Laughing, she entered the house and walked to the foot of the stairs, smiling at him over her shoulder.
“I think you’d better hurry,” she said and hurried up the stairs to the bedroom. “And I hope the kids are asleep.”