I glance at the photograph of my wife, then step outside ready to meet the other woman. Rain pours onto the roof of my porch sounding an accusing hum. Rain. Is that a sign? It was raining the day I met my wife at the train station. As the rain falls onto the roof it whispers, ‘Stay home, Tom, look at her picture again.’
No. I’m doing this.
In a bleary haze I drive to Rick’s Bar in downtown New York.
Do this, Tom. Do it.
With an edgy breath, I enter Ricks.
“Been here before,” I whisper, remembering me and Kate flirting in one of the booths while we were young, so young.
A gray-haired lady plays a tune on the black mini-grand piano in the corner.
What is that song?
It’s nothing, nothing, forget it.
The noise of the bar drowns out the melody; couples and groups chat, munch into burgers, and drink at the stalls, laughing, laughing, so loud. The bar mirror reflects the shapes and colors of the room while the barman dries glasses with a red-checkered towel, eyeing me suspiciously.
How could he know?
He doesn’t, Tom. You’re imagining it.
Where is she, anyway?
I glance around the room looking for the blonde with the cherry lips.
A hand waves.
It’s the other woman.
I stand frozen.
“Tom,” she says in a voice so alluring, waving, smiling.
Go to her, Tom.
I struggle to swallow, manage to get it down, then take a step forward. Wait . . . the tune, the piano. I look at the old lady playing; she’s playing Always.
“Our song,” I whisper. “Our wedding song.”
It’s a sign. Definitely a sign. And it’s not whispering, it’s screaming, yelling, bellowing in my face, ‘Go home, Tom!’
Control your thoughts, Tom, block out the sounds.
I shuffle into the booth, sitting opposite the other woman.
I twitch my hands on the table, nervous tics. Eve grabs my hands, holds them firm. “It’s alright, Tom,” she says, the words rolling smoothly from her lips like the butterscotch snaps before her. But what would Kate think if she heard her words, if she was looking over my shoulder right now?
“Tom?” another voice comes from the doorway.
Who is it? Who’s seen me?
“Tom, it’s you,” they say.
Familiar voice . . . it’s Bill from the office. Bill, the biggest blabbermouth imaginable. It’s always the way, always happens. The one you least want to see is the one you run into.
Don’t turn around, Tom. He hasn’t seen your face yet; maybe you could getaway then deny all this.
The toilet is just ahead. The old escape out the toilet window routine. No, wait, I’ve been in there; a skinny child would barely squeeze through that window.
“Tom?” Bill says, little aggravated.
Eve looks over. “You know him?”
“Arrh . . . yes.”
Eve waves. “Here!”
How can she do that? Wave him over, so easily. Now everyone will know I’m out with this woman. Maybe . . . maybe I could play it cool. Say we’re just friends. Bill’s a little slow, after all.
He approaches the table.
“Sorry, Bill,” I say, “didn’t realize you were calling, was . . . ah, deep in thought.” That’s not a lie at least.
Instantly Bill is not interested in my excuse nor interested in small talk, he scans a glance at Eve. “You gonna introduce me?”
Eve smiles innocently again, flicks her hair.
I nod to her. “This is, this is Eve.”
Eve stretches out her hand. “Hey, Bill. Nice to meet you.”
After a handshake, there’s an awkward silence, a silence that feels like its wrapped its claws around my throat, squeezing, gripping. Eve smiles at me then her smile drifts into gentle concern. Bill sensing something points a finger from her to me, her to me. “There’s something going on here,” he says, “isn’t there?”
I swallow, start to sweat. Can’t answer. Can’t bring myself to say it.
Eve looks at me expectantly, awaiting for me to just own up.
Then she looks up to Bill. “We’ve been seeing each other for, for about five weeks.”
My face rolls in a flaming hot flush, but a flush that feels it purged away some guilt. It’s hard, hard as Hell to take, but I’m glad she said it; glad it’s out there, for us, and for me.
“Congratulations,” Bill says, smiling like it’s our wedding day or something. Then he waves. “I’ll be seeing you.”
Eve smiles at me, and I smile with her. I take her hand and squeeze, she squeezes mine in return. “Been four years,” I tell her, but fail to mention my feeling of guilt. “Four years since the accident.”
Eve rubs her hand over mine. It’s different to the way Kate used to do it, but has the same calming effect. “Your wife would be happy you’re living again.”
I nod, because she would. Kate was the best. But now I look at Eve. “I tell you, trying to live again is killing me.”
Clint Lowe writes stories and makes videos about writing on his YouTube channel.