Are We Done With This?

Pearl

I looked out the window in the living room, seeing the distant hints of spring in the vines. Instead of looking like a ball of dead twigs, bits of green started to appear, the beginning of new life. It was dark outside, but the up lighting along the property made it visible. It made the view breathtaking during any season. I lived decades in this Tuscan villa, raised my children here, and only now did the house start to feel outdated. I’d considered doing an extensive renovation of the property but I knew Crow would be happy about that.

The book was in my hands and the TV was on in the corner, but I only had it on for background noise. I ate dinner alone because Crow went out with Cane in Florence. They hadn’t spent much time together since the winery was closed during the winter break and I thought it was nice they made an effort to see each other.

I could tell Crow was home because the butler said something from the other side of the house. A moment late, Crow walked inside, in his signature dark jeans and black shirt, a black jacket on top because it was a chilly night. He stripped it off and tossed it on one of the armchairs for someone to pick up later. He walked to me, his eyes irritable.

“What did Cane do now?” I shut the book and placed it aside.

He walked to the fireplace and let the flames warm him before he took a seat in the armchair. “You know, the usual…” His eyes lingered on the flames for a long time and he seemed to be avoiding my stare.

“Something wrong, Crow?”

He still wouldn’t look at me.

            “I asked you a question.”

            A shadow of a smile pulled at his lips before he forced himself to look at me.

            “Whenever Cane pisses you off, you bitch about it for fifteen minutes but now you have nothing to say.”

            “This is the first time Cane has pissed me off for being right…so it’s a different circumstance.”

            “Right about what? The cheese business?”

            He released a quick chuckle. “That’s going to be the worst mistake of his life…”

            “Then what is it?”      

            He looked at the fire again, the silence trickling by.

            This time I remained quiet and waited.

            He took a slow breath before he turned to me again. “There’s something I need to tell you…”

            My heart dropped into my stomach like a bowling ball. Those were words I never wanted to hear from my husband. He hadn’t said anything like that for a very long time, for decades. It hinted at a betrayal, and I automatically sucked in a heavy breath as I digested that announcement. “Okay…”

            His arms relaxed on the armchairs before his closed knuckles rested against the side of his chin.

            My heart continued to race in unease as I waited for my husband to change my world.

            “I kept this to myself because I thought it would be better for you…but then Cane convinced me otherwise—”

            “Could you just tell me what it is instead of dragging it out?” My impatience was killing me. What was Crow about to tell me?

            He looked me in the eye and faced my ferocity like a man. “There have been more instances that I haven’t told you about…instances like the girls at the winery that were smitten with me and Cane.”

            The ugly jealousy reared its head like a monster, but I kept a straight face and bottled the rage inside. I was no fool. I understood my husband got a lot of attention because his good looks had been preserved like an expensive bottle of wine. He had this distinct aura to him that everyone in his vicinity could feel. He was like a magnet that attracted every single object in the same room. I trusted Crow and always felt secure…but it was still had to tolerate.

            His eyes homed in on my face. “You’re angry.”

            “I didn’t say anything.”

            “That’s why I know you’re angry. You’re beyond words…”

            I gave a quiet sigh. “I assumed this shit has happened throughout our entire marriage. If you’re really going to list off every single incident, then I should get comfortable with a glass of wine and a cozy blanket…” I looked at the fire, annoyed that he ripped open the scabs and exposed the raw flesh underneath.

            “Not all. Just the ones I shouldn’t have hidden from you.”

            My eyes flicked back to his, my heart giving another drop like I was on a roller coaster.

            He wouldn’t look at me when he spoke. “Lacey has been running the distribution centers for the last ten years…and she’d expressed her interest in me more than once. She sent me photos that I deleted without opening. I gave her a promotion so she could work in Milan so I wouldn’t have to see her anymore. The solicitations stopped. That was a few years ago.”

            That fucking cunt. I’d seen her at Christmas parties, run into her at the winery when I stopped by to run wine tasting. That bitch smiled at me like I was her best friend and then stabbed me in the back with a fucking butter knife. Words came to mind but I was too furious to voice them. I felt betrayed—and not just be her.

            Crow watched me, waiting for the eruption to break the surface.

            I stared him down with a look of sheathed rage.

            “Pearl, say something—”

            “You want me to say something?” I snapped. “Oh, trust me, you don’t want me to say anything…”

            He looked away, the shame coming across his face. “Nothing happened. I rejected her advances and ignored her existence—”

            “So every time I went to the winery and chatted with her she was trying to fuck my husband?” I asked incredulously. “I sat there and looked like a fucking fool. No wonder she continued to pursue you—because you hid all of this from your damn wife. You kept it a secret like it was an affair—”

            “It wasn’t an affair—”

            “You asked me to talk and I’m talking.”

            He sighed and he closed his eyes briefly. “This was not some random customer at the winery or some bitch at the bar. This was someone you worked with every day. Cane knew about it and I didn’t.”

            “I didn’t want to upset you—”

            “This upsets me far more than you being honest with me. You should have fired that bitch once it started.”

            “Hitting on a coworker is not a fireable offense—”

            “Pursuing your married boss and sending unsolicited photographs is sexual harassment.”

            “I moved her to a different location and didn’t have to see her anymore. Our only interactions have been through email—and they’re rare. And trust me, I screamed at her until she cried, and I think that was the reason she was happy to relocate.”

            “I feel like a goddamn idiot…”

            He closed his eyes and released a sigh.

            “How would you feel if some stud was making passes at me left and right at the winery and I hid all of it from you? You shook his hand and had no idea? You exchanged jokes? Talked about sports—”

            “I get it—and that’s the reason I’m telling you now.”

            “Half of that winery is mine, and I was paying this bitch to try and fuck my husband.”

            He closed his eyes again. “Pearl—”

            “Why didn’t you tell me? How do you justify this?”

            He paused. “Because…I knew how much it would bother you.”

            “That’s it?” I asked incredulously. “You didn’t tell me because it would bother me?”

            “I thought I was doing the right thing at the time because my eyes have never strayed from you. My commitment has never wavered. My love has never dimmed. I felt like there was nothing to tell…”

            I released an angry sigh, so pissed off I didn’t know what to do. “When did this happen?”

            “About ten years ago…”

            “I’m not surprised she thought she could get you into bed since she could pursue you relentlessly in secret…”

            “Pearl.”

            “That’s so fucked up, Crow.”

            He sunk into the chair, his face hardening into anger and shame.

            “What else?”

            His eyes remained on the fire. “I think that’s enough for the night—”

            “What else?”

            He wouldn’t look at me.

            “Do you want to be a man and tell me? Or should I call Cane and make him rat you out?”

            His eyes shifted back to me. He wore an angry look, like I somehow at fault for all of this. “Nadine tried to make things happen a few times…”

            “Who the fuck is Nadine?”

            His closed knuckles rested against his cheek as he looked at me, like his anger needed no further explanation.

            It took me a moment to realize whom he spoke of. “Vanessa’s Nadine…?”

            He didn’t nod or speak, but his stare was a confirmation.

            “One of Vanessa’s best friends tried to fuck you?” It was so ridiculous I couldn’t believe it.

            “It was after Vanessa finished her art program in Milan. She moved back here for six months before she moved out on her own and she was having friends over a lot. She made a few passes at me but I didn’t take them seriously, assumed it was misplaced affection but then it became clear it wasn’t.”

            Speechless, I just stared at him because I couldn’t believe it. I simply couldn’t.

            “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to jeopardize Vanessa’s friendship with one of her oldest friends…”

            “What exactly did she do?”

            He made a sign and looked away. “It doesn’t matter…”

            “It matters to me, Crow. Now answer the question.”

            He stared at the fire for a while. “It started off innocent. Whenever I was alone in the kitchen or living room, she would drift away from Vanessa and the others and spend time talking to me. I was always warm toward her because Vanessa’s friends have always been like adopted daughters to us. She made a few suggestive comments…which I also didn’t take seriously. But one summer day everyone was outside swimming and I went upstairs to take a shower…and she came in.”

            I almost grabbed my book and chucked it right at his head. “She came in when you were in the shower?”

            All he did was stare.

            “So she saw you? Like, all of you?”

            He still didn’t answer.

            “Jesus fucking Christ.”

            “I screamed at her and she ran out of the house. None of you heard it because you were all outside by the pool…”

            A fist had punched my stomach and gave me internal bleeding. I felt sick and betrayed. I always treated Nadine like another daughter because it seemed like her home life wasn’t the best. Her parents were divorced and her father had always been out of the picture. I gave that girl so much motherly affection…and she stabbed me in the back…right under my roof. “Now I know why we haven’t seen her since…”

            He rubbed the side of his temple, like this trip down memory lane was giving him a migraine.

            It was giving me an ulcer. “I can’t believe you didn’t say anything…”

            “They’ve been friends since they were five—”

            “What kind of friend tries to fuck your dad?”

            “We all do stupid shit when we’re young—”

            “Yes, we sneak out of our bedrooms in the middle of the night for a midnight hookup, we get wasted at bars and ended up on someone’s couch, we lie to our parents about where we are so we can try weed for the first time. We don’t do this.”

            “She had a hard life growing up and her dad was out of the picture—”

            “What does that matter?” I snapped. “We were parents to her. We took her on family trips. We had one of her birthday parties at the house for fuck’s sake. And she does this? How can you possibly defend this behavior?”

            “Because I’ve done stupid shit too,” he said quietly. “Shit I’ll always regret.”

            “Crow, you’ve never done anything like this—”

            “You’re right, I’ve done worse.” He said it matter-of-factly, still carrying the burden of his shame. “I decided to give her a free pass…”

            “She disrespected me under my own roof. And she disrespected Vanessa.”

            “She’s been a good friend to her in other ways—”

            “Not good enough.”

            He looked away and stared at the fire.

            “What else?”

            “That’s it…”

            “You sure?” I snapped. “Any other major secrets you’re keeping from me?”

            He looked at me again, his eyes angry by the accusation.

            “She came into my house and tried to sleep with my husband,” I snapped. “I don’t care if she’s Vanessa’s friend. That girl deserves to be bitchslapped. If Vanessa knew, she would do it herself.”

            “Which is why I didn’t mention it…”

            I still wanted to throw the book at his head. Still wanted to scream. “I can’t believe you kept this from me…and you only mentioned it now because your brother convinced you to. You carried no guilty conscious. You were happy to keep this secret until you died…”

            “I was happy to keep this secret to spare you pain.”

            I shook my head. “Knowing this was going on right under my nose but I trusted you so blindly that I didn’t see it is far more painful…”

            “Nothing was going on right under your nose,” he snapped. “How many times do I have to tell you that nothing happened. They tried to make something happen and I told them to fuck off. That’s the whole story.”

            “I would never do that to you, Crow.” My voice came out eerily quiet despite my anger. I was so broken I was defeated, defeated by my own husband. “I would never make a fool out of you…”

            He closed his and bowed his head. “I didn’t make a fool out of you—”

            “Yes, you did. If I kept all of this from you…I’m not even sure if you’d still want to be with me. I’m not sure if we’d still be married right now.” If this played out in reverse and Crow discovered those secrets…he would burn everything to the ground.

            He lifted his head and his eyes snapped open. “That’s ridiculous, Pearl.”

            “I know you. I know how you think. Loyalty is everything to you—”

            “You could fuck someone else and I would still be here,” he snapped, his voice rising. “We’d be in pieces and he’d be dead—but we would still be here. There’s nothing you could ever do to lose me. If you ever wanted to leave I wouldn’t let you. I would keep you as a fucking prisoner all over again. When I said this was forever I fucking meant it.”

            My rage dropped for a split second, moved by the sincerity in his words.

            “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you. I realize I fucked up by keeping it from you…and I came clean. I thought it was the best decision at the time.”

            I looked away in the opposite direction of the fire, looking at a painting on the wall that had been there long before I moved in. There was so much anger in my blood that it couldn’t dissolve. I loved this man with all my heart, but for the first time since we’d been married, I didn’t want him. I felt betrayed. I felt stupid. So fucking stupid.

            “Pearl.” His voice was gentle, apologetic. “I was wrong…and I admit that.”

            I still wouldn’t look at him.

            “I’m sorry.”

            I ignored him.

            He released a loud sigh as his stare still burned into my cheek. “Are we done with this?” It was the same question he asked me when the waitress made her move and separated us for a week. He seemed to think his confession and his apology were enough.

            Not even close. “No.” I got to my feet and left the armchair and walked away, turning my back to him. “We aren’t done with this…”