Authors: Lexie Ray
No, I didn’t know. Of course, I’d seen photos of them together. Violet had given Jonathan whole boxes of them, trying to jar his memory into remembering that he loved her and not me. I started feeling a little faint and was forced to grip the bar that extended out from the kitchen window. I was thankful that I was wearing semi-sensible sandals and nothing too high. If I passed out, the floor wasn’t that far away.
“Violet got me to promise that I’d show the photos to you and get you to believe it was happening now,” Jane added almost cheerfully, seemingly not aware — or maybe not caring — that she was confessing to betraying me in the worst way possible. “And that worked pretty well, but it was all my idea to get you in compromising photos with Brock.”
I actually had to put my drink down at that. Jane continued to grin at me like a lunatic, and I had to resist the urge to slap the shit out of her.
“I need you to say all of that again,” I said. “Talk slowly. Don’t leave anything out.”
“How drunk are you?” Jane laughed. “Never mind. No judgment here. All right.”
I struggled to follow her, to keep up with the positively insane shit I was hearing right now. The photos I’d seen of Jonathan and Violet were all old photos from before — when they were still together, back before I had ever even entered the picture. I grappled with that. How could I not have realized that it could’ve been a possibility? Jonathan wouldn’t have known to defend himself, having no memory of the vacations he’d taken with Violet.
What was even more disturbing was the fact that it was Jane who’d taken the photos of Brock and me, standing there in the room while I was blacked out drunk, helping him pose me in the most provocative ways. It was horrifying and invasive, and I couldn’t make it make sense in my mind. How could anyone think that was an acceptable course of action in any way, shape, or form?
“Why would you do something like that?” I asked, utterly dumbfounded. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. If Jane was speaking the truth, that meant that all of the drama between Jonathan and me while he was gone had been completely orchestrated.
He had never cheated on me.
I had never cheated on him.
The people who we’d been closest to had lied to us, had manipulated us, had ruined our lives, had caused me to lose my baby.
“My dad always tells me that I need to channel my energy more positively,” Jane said. “I just get bored sometimes.”
“You just get bored sometimes?” I repeated slowly.
“Yep.” More exaggerated nodding — so exaggerated that it made Jane lose her balance, and she had to grab on to me to remain upright. “Thanks!”
“Don’t mention it,” I muttered, moving her firmly away from me.
My world was already in shambles. How could it be falling apart even more? Everything had been a lie. Everything. Jonathan and I had waged war on each other because of two psychotic bitches — one who wanted my husband for her own and the other just for shits and giggles.
I had to remind myself to breathe. Everything was coming apart.
This meant that Jonathan and I — if he knew the truth, if I could give him the truth — didn’t have to hold grudges. That we could start over again, if we wanted to. That nothing bad had happened, I mean, really happened.
Except something bad had really happened.
Jonathan and I had been so upset at each other at the cottage the last time we’d been together. We’d had that horrible, hateful sex, and I’d run off into the woods afterward. It had been after dark, I hadn’t been myself, and I’d fallen.
If I hadn’t run off, if we hadn’t had hateful sex, if we hadn’t been upset at each other, if Jane and Violet had kept their meddling fingers out of our lives …
The what ifs were killing me. They were so hard to think about. I shouldn’t think about them. They’d drive me insane.
But if not for Violet, and Jane here, who was giggling like a lunatic, I might’ve had a baby.
Jonathan and I might’ve been parents.
It was all I could do not to wrap my fingers around Jane’s neck and never let go. She deserved it. She deserved every bad thing in the world. She deserved to feel what I felt, to be so desperate that she’d change her appearance and her name just to get away from herself.
She had ruined everything. She and Violet had completely destroyed my life.
I knew on some abstract level that what I did next would define me for the rest of my life, but I could barely remain upright, let alone gauge and analyze what I should do. After a few minutes of silence — Jane drinking and watching the highly sexual stripper display, oblivious to my crisis — I suddenly hatched a half-assed plan. If I would ever try to use this information in any way, or even if I just wanted to hear the words again tomorrow to make sure I didn’t dream up this entire encounter, I’d need some proof that this had actually happened.
That Jane had confessed to fucking everything up.
“You know, would you do me a favor?” I asked, fumbling with my clutch until I pulled out my cell phone.
“Sure!” Jane the drunk was apparently Jane the magnanimous.
I set my phone to the recorder and pressed play, hoping it would pick up her voice over the music.
“Just tell me that story one more time,” I said, putting the phone practically in her face. “I want to make sure I remember every single word.”
After Jane happily complied, I ended the recording, made sure it was saved, emailed it to myself just be sure that it wouldn’t get lost, and put the phone away. Then, I drained my drink and sat the empty glass carefully on the bar.
“Hey, Jane?” I asked sweetly, smiling at her.
“Uh-huh?” She smiled back, completely ignorant to the magnitude of what she’d just revealed to me and what it meant for my future. I doubted seriously that she would even remember having seen me when she woke up in the morning.
“Fuck you,” I said, just as sweetly, before punching her as hard as I could right in the face.
Jane crumpled immediately to the floor, but the music was so loud and there were so many people and distractions that no one noticed.
“Oh my God!” I yelled, attracting the attention of several people around me. “This girl is so drunk that she just passed the fuck out! Does anybody know her?”
I let the Good Samaritans have at Jane, whose nose was bleeding all over her dress. That was the second of her outfits I’d ruined — the first with my vomit on the night when Jane had made her move to ruin my life out of boredom, for fun.
It was still hard to believe. It was even harder to stomach.
Jonathan and I had been manipulated, and the cost had been way too high. Our love for each other had been tested to extremes it didn’t deserve because of some evil people.
I made it to the toilet before I began vomiting. I hadn’t had that much to drink, so I knew it was the shock of the situation. The shock of knowing that my reality of the past year or so was a complete and utter lie. That I could’ve been living happily with Jonathan, immersed in our love, maybe even raising a daughter together.
I knew that I couldn’t keep thinking like that. I knew better than most people the futility of that kind of train of thought. I’d wished my parents back so often and so hard that it had consumed me for the longest time.
If I kept wishing that Violet and Jane had never been vicious human beings, that I’d been allowed to have my happiness and my baby, it would kill me.
I saw that insanity for exactly what it was. It would kill me. There wouldn’t be any coming back from that.
I flushed the toilet and rinsed my mouth out in the sink. My eye makeup had run a little bit, so I cleaned myself up. I didn’t recognize the woman in the mirror anymore. I didn’t know who she needed to be. Michelle Wharton wanted to curl up in a ball and weep, and April Smith wanted to march right back out to the party and make Jane pay even more for what had happened.
But I knew I could do neither. Everything had changed.
I was neither April Smith nor Michelle Wharton anymore, and I realized that I didn’t want to be either of them. I realized that I’d been April Smith for so long with the hope that someday I’d be plain old Michelle again, recovered from all of her tragedy.
That was never the way any of this worked. Shitty things happened to people all the time, whether they deserved it or not. People wasted years of their lives mired in regret, swimming against the current, exhausting themselves with attempts to go back to the way things were, to try to get back to where they used to be before their great tragedies.
Jonathan and I had been duped into believing we were cheating on each other. One way or another, through a horrible set of events, it had led to the death of my unborn child.
There was nobody I could go back and be again. There was nowhere to go but forward, to give up on gathering up the pieces. I had to just leave them and march on.
How I dealt with this was going to be what defined the rest of my life, whatever I chose to do with it, and the longer I stayed in that bathroom, the longer I was putting off what I was swiftly realizing what needed to be done.
I needed to talk to Jonathan. I needed to tell him the truth of what happened. With Jane’s voice recording, I had all the resources I needed.
I stared at the stranger in the mirror and willed her to have the courage to go figure out what could be done with the sad situation she and her husband found themselves in.
I willed myself to have the courage to let go of my tragedy and forge my way forward, and I knew that Jonathan was the doorway to that future.
The last time I’d walked through this office in the Wharton Group building, I’d been a scared and insecure girl, not sure how to conduct herself or how to make everyone stop staring at her or talking to her. I’d also been going to bring a picnic lunch to the love of my life. I didn’t know if that person was still in me anymore. I didn’t know what I was doing here. But now people were staring at me for a different reason. I was smoking hot, and I knew it.
I was smoking hot, and I was going to win my husband back.
“Is he in there?” I asked the man at the desk nearest the frosted glass that separated Jonathan from the rest of his employees.
“He’s in there,” the guy said, rolling his eyes. “Just what he’s doing in there, I don’t know. He’s been in there since yesterday, I think. No one saw him leave.”
“What?” I snapped. “Why hasn’t anyone checked on him? Has he eaten? Do you people care about him at all?”
“We used to give a damn, when he did,” the guy said, leaning back in his desk chair and looking at me appreciatively. “But he’s a changed man. He doesn’t care about anything anymore. We’re all working our asses to try and get past the lawsuit, and he’s in there moping or something.”
“Or something,” I repeated viciously. What if he was depressed? What if I had driven him to do something regrettable? There would be no coming back from that. That would be the final nail in my coffin.
“Whoa, whoa,” the guy said as I tried to march on in. “Do you have an appointment?”
“Yes,” I lied.
“No,” he corrected, pointing at an open planner in front of him. “I’ve been designated gatekeeper after he fired his pretty little secretary for making a pass at him. Can you imagine? Firing a hot thing like that for making a pass at a man. Something’s wrong with him, I’m telling you. And you’re not on the list of appointments I have here today. There’s not a woman’s name on it. Who are you, anyways?”
“I’m his wife,” I spat, and walked right into Jonathan’s office.
The stench of liquor hit me full in the face, pushing me dangerously close to a gag. My bottle of vodka comforted me more often than I cared to admit, but there had been some serious drinking in here.
“Ms. Smith. What a surprise. Did you come to dance around the bonfire of Wharton Group? You’re the one who lit the match, after all.”
I turned to see Jonathan sitting at his desk, sporting a heavy set of whiskers. It looked like his face hadn’t seen a razor in days. His blue eyes were dull, and a highball rested on the surface in front of him, sitting in a pool of condensation from ice that had apparently melted within.
This was a man truly broken, which was exactly what I had wanted to inflict on him. But there was no closure, no satisfaction. It was the same troubling emptiness I’d felt when Miles had told me that the Wharton Group was going down like the Hindenburg. It had been what I’d wanted more than anything, but now I felt nothing.
“You were the one who provided all the fuel,” I said. “You were stealing money from your own family. Why?”
“I don’t have to answer you,” he said. “The justice system is the only thing I’m concerned about.”
“When you came to my office, you tried to get me to stop the investigation,” I said. “Is this what you were trying to escape from? Me finding this out?”
“What are you here for, Ms. Smith?” he asked, looking blankly up at me. It hurt me that his eyes were so blank, so emotionless. I wished I could do something to remedy that, but I needed answers. I needed to understand.
“I think you owe somebody an explanation,” I said. “Should I ply you with a fresh drink? Can I order takeout? It’s kind of early for lunch, but you look like you could benefit by eating something.”