This week's Indie Ink Writing Challenge, the cryptic "Seven Deadly Zins", comes at me from Miranda, while my challenge was flung at the feet of urbane Billy Flynn, who is sure to razzle dazzle us.
I must emphasize before we begin that what follows is 110% fiction. I haven't even been to San Diego.
It was the kind of night that reminded you why you lived in San Diego- warm and dry, so pleasant it should be illegal, with enough of a gentle breeze to ruffle the hem of a woman's dress when she walked. Even so, I was driving carefully all the way there, like I expected there to be land mines along the way. I parked, and she got out without a word, the silence uneasy. I watched her walk, the green dress, bought years ago for a nephew's wedding, still fitting well around her hips.
It was our monthly splurge, a dinner out with all the trimmings. We got dressed up, summoned a babysitter, and went to an expensive place, experiencing the high life for 2 or 3 hours before returning to the world of projects and deadlines, runny nosed kids and orthodontist bills. We had been favoring the same place for a while, and apparently I had made an impression with my good tipping as they seated us along a huge window that looked out onto the ocean.
The table was gorgeous, polished walnut, everything gleaming and arranged with Zen like perfection. With a forced smile, I let her order, because it was simpler than listening to her criticize what I ordered. She knew a lot more about food anyway, so whatever she ordered usually suited me fine. Her face lit up when she placed our order, some seafood dishes and a bottle of Zinfandel, as if she was trying to oversell her happiness to be there. I ordinarily would raise my eyebrows at that large a wine order, but I didn't dare.
I was watching a tanker, far out to sea, making its way north, millions of tons of steel floating, like a magic trick, on top of billions of gallons of water. I knew there were physical principles involved- buoyancy and specific gravity and such, but just like an airplane's flight, I preferred not to think too hard about it. It seemed like magic, and to really understand what went on in terms of equations and numbers took some of that away.
I thought back to when she came into our bedroom 90 minutes ago, when I was dead to rights: hung out to dry, like the runner on a busted hit and run. There was no alibi, no explanation, no innocent interpretation. I was on the bed, eagerly trying to tug the jeans off of the 23 year old graduate student we paid exceptionally well to watch our two young boys while we stole an evening out.
We were both shocked. It wasn't a planned event. That didn't make it okay- as my father used to say, an explanation is not always an excuse. The babysitter, the preternaturally calm Grace, had settled our two boys down for the night, and I was finishing getting dressed while we awaited my wife's arrival from a thorny real estate negotiation. Grace padded into my room on bare feet, her glasses suddenly appearing above my left shoulder.
"Look at you!," she said approvingly.
"Well, shucks, ma'am," I said, trying a John Wayne imitation and missing by several nautical miles.
She was standing close to me, right off my elbow. I would be lying if I said I had never felt an attraction, with her long legs and uneven, endearing smile, but it was the same attraction I had for Natalie Portman or the cute blonde who did the morning weather report on the local news- sure, you'd like to, but it's not like they are offering, so it's not really an issue. Purely theoretical. Never, ever going to happen. But it was nice to hear praise from someone who wasn't obligated to give it.
What happened in the next five seconds was something I was going to agonize over for the rest of my life, I know now. I think I might have known it then. Or maybe I didn't know anything then.
I half turned, and we were suddenly face to face, standing probably closer than we ever had before. "I wasn't thinking" is a cliche, and it's not even true- we're always thinking about something, until we're dead. But it certainly felt like my hands found her trim little waist on their own, that my head bent by itself, and that the kiss itself emerged out of nowhere. We didn't talk- she didn't say no, but she didn't say yes. I guided her over to our bed in sloppy half steps, my hands already ranging up her long belly to her soft, round breasts. She laid down, and I had undone her jeans, trying to guide them over her hips when my wife came in behind us.
I stood up, and then Grace did, pulling herself together guiltily and standing behind me. It was by far the single strangest moment I have ever experienced. My wife didn't even break stride, coming across the room to her makeup mirror, shedding her modestly heeled shoes and beginning to shimmy out of her black pencil skirt.
"Oh good, you're ready," she said. "Give me time to change into my dress, and we can leave. Why don't you go downstairs and show Grace where I put the Diet Pepsi for her?"
Like automatons, we did as she asked. I didn't ask her about what had happened, and she didn't say anything. I showed her the soda, opened the freezer to reveal a new box of ice cream sandwiches, pointed out the new cheese dip we had bought, and showed her the brand new boxes of Triscuits I had laid in. She nodded, wide eyed with shock and fear. I stared at Grace, her shirt rumpled, her hair mussed slightly, and started to question my own sanity. If you saw something happen, but nobody else will talk about it, did it really happen at all? My wife came downstairs and we left. She was utterly silent all the way over, and I didn't dare break it.
I was staring at my wife, who still hadn't uttered a word to me, next to the gorgeous ocean view, surrounded by privilege and opulence. The restaurant had that low murmur of adult conversation, somehow made even quieter because of the august surroundings. I took a sip of the wine they had poured for us. It was fine. I would have preferred a beer.
She looked at me over the rim of her wineglass. "Aren't you wondering what I'm thinking?", she said calmly.
"Kind of," I said. It felt like I had just hung a curveball, that feeling of impending doom combined with the inability to change the events that you just set in motion.
"I'm not going to leave you, if that's what you're thinking. I'm not mad at you. I'm not even mad at Grace, really. You can be very persuasive when you want to be. And let's face it- you look pretty damn good in that suit. So I'm not going to make a scene, or throw the wine in your face, or storm out in a huff. I knew this was going to happen at some point, so it doesn't even hurt that much. So I saw you, and I saw her, and I saw what you were doing, and I only had one single thought- I've got you now."
"So we're going to sit here, and we're going to have a nice dinner, and then you're going to take me home. And we're not going to talk about this ever again. But some day, you're going to need something from me- something small, but my participation is going to be really crucial to something that's important to you. And I'm going to tell you that I'll do it. And then I won't. And whatever you have planned will get screwed up. And every time you ask me to do something from now on, you're going to ask yourself, 'is this the time she lets me down?' And you won't know until it's too late."
"And Steven? Because you tried to do it on our bed? On my Martha Stewart sheets? I'm going to take a freebie. So if I decide I want to bang our child's teacher, or a hot father at the bus stop, or my old boyfriend Charles? I'm going to do it. And you can't say shit."
"And one more thing. Don't get any ideas about leaving me and running off with her. Do that, and I will destroy you. I will tell all the partners what you did, and what's worse, I'll tell your clients. And just maybe I'll suggest that she was 15 instead of 23. And then you won't be able to represent anyone outside of Traffic Court."
"You just threw the wrong pitch, Steven. And now I'm going to take you deep."