Authors: Alex Michaelides
Tags: #Thrillers, #Psychological, #Fiction, #Suspense
What should I do?
Confront her, of course. Tell her everything I had seen. She’d react by denying it—then, seeing it was hopeless, she would admit the truth and prostrate herself, stricken with remorse. She’d beg my forgiveness, wouldn’t she?
What if she didn’t? What if she scorned me? What if she laughed, turned on her heel, and left? What then?
Between the two of us, I had the most to lose, that was obvious. Kathy would survive—she was fond of saying she was tough as nails. She’d pick herself up, dust herself off, and forget all about me. But I wouldn’t forget about her. How could I? Without Kathy, I’d return to that empty, solitary existence I had endured before. I’d never meet anyone like her again, never have that same connection or experience that depth of feeling for another human being. She was the love of my life—she
my life—and I wasn’t ready to give her up. Not yet. Even though she had betrayed me, I still loved her.
Perhaps I was crazy, after all.
A solitary bird shrieked above my head, startling me. I stopped and looked around. I’d gone much farther than I thought. Shocked, I saw where my feet had carried me—I had walked to within a couple of streets of Ruth’s front door.
Without intending to, I had unconsciously made my way to my old therapist in a time of trouble, as I had done so many times in the past. It was a testament to how upset I was that I considered going up to her door and ringing the bell and asking for help.
And why not? I thought suddenly; yes, it was unprofessional and highly improper conduct, but I was desperate, and I needed help. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of Ruth’s green door, watching my hand reach up to the buzzer and press it.
It took her a few moments to answer it. A light went on the hallway, then she opened the door, keeping the chain on.
Ruth peered out through the crack. She looked older. She must be in her eighties now; smaller, frailer than I remembered, and slightly stooped. She was wearing a gray cardigan over a pale pink nightgown.
“Hello?” she said nervously. “Who’s there?
“Hello, Ruth.” I stepped into the light.
She recognized me and looked surprised. “Theo? What on earth—” Her eyes went from my face to the clumsy, improvised bandage around my finger, with blood seeping through it. “Are you all right?”
“Not really. May I come in? I—I need to talk to you.”
Ruth didn’t hesitate, only looked concerned. She nodded. “Of course. Come in.” She undid the chain and opened the door.
I stepped inside.
RUTH SHOWED ME INTO THE LIVING ROOM
. “Would you like a cup of tea?”
The room was as it had always been, as I’d always remembered it—the rug, the heavy drapes, the silver clock ticking on the mantel, the armchair, the faded blue couch. I felt instantly reassured.
“To be honest, I could do with something stronger.”
Ruth shot me a brief, piercing glance, but didn’t comment. Nor did she refuse, as I half expected.
She poured me a glass of sherry and handed it to me. I sat on the couch. Force of habit made me sit where I had always done for therapy, on the far left side, resting my arm on the armrest. The fabric underneath my fingertips had been worn thin by the anxious rubbing of many patients, myself included.
I took a sip of sherry. It was warm, sweet, and little sickly, but I drank it down, conscious of Ruth watching me the whole time. Her gaze was obvious but not heavy or uncomfortable; in twenty years Ruth had never managed to make me feel uncomfortable. I didn’t speak again until I had finished the sherry and the glass was empty.
“It feels odd to be sitting here with a glass in my hand. I know you’re not in the habit of offering drinks to your patients.”
“You’re not my patient anymore. Just a friend—and by the look of you,” she added gently, “you need a friend right now.”
“Do I look that bad?”
“You do, I’m afraid. And it must be serious, or you wouldn’t come over uninvited like this. Certainly not at ten o’clock at night.”
“You’re right. I felt—I felt I had no choice.”
“What is it, Theo? What’s the matter?”
“I don’t how to tell you. I don’t know where to start.”
“How about the beginning?”
I nodded. I took a breath and began. I told her about everything that had happened; I told her about starting marijuana again, and how I had been smoking it secretly—and how it had led to my discovering Kathy’s emails and her affair. I spoke quickly, breathlessly, wanting to get it off my chest. I felt as if I were at confession.
Ruth listened without interruption until I had finished. It was hard to read her expression. Finally she said, “I am very sorry this happened, Theo. I know how much Kathy means to you. How much you love her.”
“Yes. I love—” I stopped, unable to say her name. There was a tremor in my voice. Ruth picked up on it and edged the box of tissues toward me. I used to get angry when she would do that in our sessions; I’d accuse her of trying to make me cry. She would generally succeed. But not tonight. Tonight my tears were frozen. A reservoir of ice.
I had been seeing Ruth for a long time before I met Kathy, and I continued therapy for the first three years of our relationship. I remember the advice Ruth gave me when Kathy and I first got together: “Choosing a lover is a lot like choosing a therapist. We need to ask ourselves, is this someone who will be honest with me, listen to criticism, admit making mistakes, and not promise the impossible?”
I told all this to Kathy at the time, and she suggested we make a pact. We swore never to lie to each other. Never pretend. Always be truthful.
“What happened?” I said. “What went wrong?”
Ruth hesitated before she spoke. What she said surprised me.
“I suspect you know the answer to that. If you would just admit it to yourself.”
“I don’t know.” I shook my head. “I don’t.”
I fell into indignant silence—yet I had a sudden image of Kathy writing all those emails, and how passionate they were, how charged, as if she was getting high from writing them, from the clandestine nature of her relationship with this man. She enjoyed lying and sneaking around: it was like acting, but offstage.
“I think she’s bored,” I said eventually.
“What makes you say that?”
“Because she needs excitement. Drama. She always has. She’s been complaining—for a while, I suppose—that we don’t have any fun anymore, that I’m always stressed, that I work too hard. We fought about it recently. She kept using the word
“As in there aren’t any. Between us.”
“Ah. I see.” Ruth nodded. “We’ve talked about this before. Haven’t we?”
“About love. About how we often mistake love for fireworks—for drama and dysfunction. But real love is very quiet, very still. It’s boring, if seen from the perspective of high drama. Love is deep and calm—and constant. I imagine you do give Kathy love—in the true sense of the word. Whether or not she is capable of giving it back to you is another question.”
I stared at the box of tissues on the table in front of me. I didn’t like where Ruth was going. I tried to deflect her.
“There are faults on both sides. I lied to her too. About the weed.”
Ruth smiled sadly. “I don’t know if persistent sexual and emotional betrayal with another human being is on the same level as getting stoned every now and then. I think it points to a very different kind of individual—someone who is able to lie repeatedly and lie well, who can betray their partner without feeling any remorse—”
“You don’t know that.” I sounded as pathetic as I felt. “She might feel terrible.”
But even as I said that, I didn’t believe it.
Neither did Ruth. “I don’t think so. I think her behavior suggests she is quite damaged—lacking in empathy and integrity and just plain kindness—all the qualities you brim with.”
I shook my head. “That’s not true.”
“It is true, Theo.” Ruth hesitated. “Don’t you think perhaps you’ve been here before?”
Ruth shook her head. “I don’t mean that. I mean with your parents. When you were younger. If there’s a childhood dynamic here you might be replaying.”
“No.” I suddenly felt irritated. “What’s happening with Kathy has got nothing to do with my childhood.”
“Oh, really?” Ruth sounded disbelieving. “Trying to please someone unpredictable, someone emotionally unavailable, uncaring, unkind—trying to keep them happy, win their love—is this not an old story, Theo? A familiar story?”
I clenched my fist and didn’t speak.
Ruth went on hesitantly, “I know how sad you feel. But I want you to consider the possibility that you felt this sadness long before you met Kathy. It’s a sadness you’ve been carrying around for many years. You know, Theo, one of the hardest things to admit is that we weren’t loved when we needed it most. It’s a terrible feeling, the pain of not being loved.”
She was right. I had been groping for the right words to express that murky feeling of betrayal inside, the horrible hollow ache, and to hear Ruth say it—“the pain of not being loved”—I saw how it pervaded my entire consciousness and was at once the story of my past, present, and future. This wasn’t just about Kathy: it was about my father, and my childhood feelings of abandonment; my grief for everything I never had and, in my heart, still believed I never would have. Ruth was saying that was why I chose Kathy. What better way for me to prove that my father was correct—that I’m worthless and unlovable—than by pursuing someone who will never love me?
I buried my head in my hands. “So all this was inevitable? That’s what you’re saying—I set myself up for this? It’s fucking hopeless?”
“It’s not hopeless. You’re not a boy at the mercy of your father anymore. You’re a grown man now—and you have a choice. Use this as another confirmation of how unworthy you are—or break with the past. Free yourself from endlessly repeating it.”
“How do I do that? You think I should leave her?”
“I think it’s a very difficult situation.”
“But you think I should leave, don’t you?”
“You’ve come too far and worked too hard to return to a life of dishonesty and denial and emotional abuse. You deserve someone who treats you better,
“Just say it, Ruth. Say it. You think I should leave.”
Ruth looked me in the eyes. She held my gaze. “I think you
leave. And I’m not saying this as your old therapist—but as your old friend. I don’t think you could go back, even if you wanted to. It might last a little while perhaps, but in a few months something else will happen and you’ll end up back here on this couch. Be honest with yourself, Theo—about Kathy and this situation—and everything built on lies and untruths will fall away from you. Remember, love that doesn’t include honesty doesn’t deserve to be called love.”
I sighed, deflated, depressed, and tired.
“Thank you, Ruth—for your honesty. It means a lot.”
Ruth gave me a hug at the door as I left. She’d never done that before. She was fragile in my arms, her bones so delicate; I breathed in her faint flowery scent and the wool of her cardigan and again I felt like crying. But I didn’t, or couldn’t, cry.
Instead I walked away and didn’t look back.
I caught a bus back home. I sat by the window, staring out, thinking of Kathy, of her white skin, and those beautiful green eyes. I was filled with such a longing—for the sweet taste of her lips, her softness. But Ruth was right. Love that doesn’t include honesty doesn’t deserve to be called love.
I had to go home and confront Kathy.
I had to leave her.
KATHY WAS THERE WHEN I GOT HOME
. She was sitting on the couch, texting.
“Where were you?” she asked without looking up.
“Just a walk. How was rehearsal?”
“All right. Tiring.”
I watched her texting, wondering who she was writing to. I knew this was my moment to speak.
I know you’re having an affair—I want a divorce.
I opened my mouth to say it. But I found I was mute. Before I could recover my voice, Kathy beat me to it. She stopped texting and put down her phone.
“Theo, we need to talk.”
“Don’t you have something to tell me?” Her voice had a stern note.
I avoided looking at her, in case she could read my thoughts. I felt ashamed and furtive—as if I were the one with the guilty secret.
And I was, as far as she was concerned. Kathy reached behind the sofa and picked something up. At once my heart sank. She was holding the small jar where I kept the grass. I’d forgotten to hide it back in the spare room after I’d cut my finger.
“What’s this?” She held it up.
“I’m aware of that. What’s it doing here?”
“I bought some. I fancied it.”
“Fancied what? Getting high? Are you—serious?”
I shrugged, evading her eye, like a naughty child.
“What the fuck? I mean, Jesus—” Kathy shook her head, outraged. “Sometimes I think I don’t know you at all.”
I wanted to hit her. I wanted to leap on her and beat her with my fists. I wanted to smash up the room, break the furniture against the walls. I wanted to weep and howl and bury myself in her arms.
I did none of this.
“Let’s go to bed,” I said, and walked out.
We went to bed in silence. I lay in the dark next to her. I lay awake for hours, feeling the heat from her body, staring at her while she slept.
Why didn’t you come to me? I wanted to say. Why didn’t you talk to me? I was your best friend. If you had said just one word, we could have worked through it. Why didn’t you talk to me? I’m here.
I’m right here.
I wanted to reach out and pull her close. I wanted to hold her. But I couldn’t. Kathy had gone—the person I loved so much had disappeared forever, leaving this stranger in her place.
A sob rose at the back of my throat. Finally, the tears came, streaming down my cheeks.
Silently, in the darkness, I wept.
* * *