Contest #228 shortlist ⭐️

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Fiction Romance

I could tell my drink intimidated her. Vodka and pineapple juice in its squat, masculine glass convinced her of preconceived inadequacies. 

“Shall I order you one?” I offered.

She considered my question as she raised her water with no ice and no lemon to her mouth and took a dainty sip. That plum-colored, matte lipstick, the only makeup on her perfectly symmetrical face, left no hint that her lips had touched the glass. Her smooth, mahogany skin, radiating in the afternoon sun, gave her an angelic glow, and I wished then that I had chosen the seat facing the window. 

“No, I don’t drink.” 

“Right,” I said absently.

Her eyes shot up, peering pensively into mine. 

“Look, I don’t know anything about you,” I said before taking a swig from my drink. “That’s not my style.”

“There’s a ‘style’ to what you do?” She did that one eyebrow raise thing when she said “style,” and I instantly hated and was intrigued by her.

“Of course. There’s a ‘style’ to everything,” I replied. “How you hold the steering wheel when you drive. How you bend to lift a box off the floor. How you walk in heels when your feet hurt.”

“And this…is this just another mundane, ordinary life event with its own ‘style?’”

I took another swig to finish the drink and settle my nerves. “Well, yes. It is.”

“Caesar salad for you,” the waiter announced as he placed the plate in front of me. “And a house salad for you.” I tapped the rim of the glass, and he set off for my refill.

“Shall we say grace?” I asked, extending my hand toward her thin, elegant fingers with their freshly painted nails. I bowed my head, and she cautiously set her hand in mine.

“Father God, in the name of Jesus, we come to say ‘thank You.’ Thank You for this meal. Thank You for this time together. Thank You for whatever light You will shed on this dark situation. Amen.”

When I opened my eyes, her mouth was agape. 

Yes, girl. I pray.”

“But you…”

“Yeah, so?” My drink had started to loosen me up. “Everybody got something to pray for. Something to repent of. Something to give thanks for. Even me.”

“I guess so.” She stabbed her fork into a grape tomato and lifted it toward her mouth. The misplaced savagery amused me as I dug into my own salad. 

“Thank you,” I said to the waiter who had returned with my drink. “Can you keep them coming for me, dear? I’ll let you know when I’ve had enough.”

We ate our respective salads for a few awkward minutes before I summoned the courage to speak again. “So you said you wanted to talk to me.” We both allowed our beverages to wash the last bits of salad down our throats.

“Yes. I guess I want to see…I want to know…” her voice trailed off, losing its confidence.

“Why he’s sleeping with me,” I suggested.

“Yes,” she confessed with a sigh.

I took a deep breath and looked into her eyes. They were big, almond-shaped eyes with long, natural lashes, and while I had not planned on being radically honest, her eyes told me she could handle it. No matter how much it would hurt.

“Listen,” I began. “It’s because I’m light.” Her eyes surveyed my full cheeks and double chin, but before they went any further south, I explained, “Not me, but the idea of me.” She returned her eyes to mine. “You’re heavy, sweetie. You’re pick up the dry cleaning and mortgage payments and take the kids to basketball practice.”

“So he doesn’t love me anymore because we have responsibilities?”

“Love? Who said anything about him not loving you? He loves you. You're just heavy.”

“Steak cooked medium rare?” I quickly raised my finger. “And this lobster ravioli must be for you.” The waiter left us to our meal. I sliced my steak into manageable chunks and began to eat. She did the same with her ravioli. 

“So you’re all fun and games, and I’m the nag?”

I giggled. 

“Naw, I’m not ‘all fun and games.’ I got boundaries. And you’re not a nag. You’re just a wife.” 

“Just a wife,” she repeated indignantly.

“Hey, I’m not trying to hurt your feelings. I’m trying to be honest. If I were his wife, he would step out on me, too, because having a wife is heavy business. It’s part of the job description.”

“And you?”

“Me? I get to be as light as I want to be on any given day. I have a one bedroom apartment with a secured entrance and a doorman. If I don’t want to be light for him, I don’t have to be. I don’t have to allow him upstairs. I don’t have to answer his calls. I don’t have to be bothered. That makes me alluring.”

“And I’m what, just the old hag he got saddled with? The one who has to deal with him?”

“Now, there you go again. Who I am ain’t got nothing to do with you. Ain’t no comparison. No contrast either. We just two women who happen to fuck the same man.”

Her fork hit the plate. The muscles in her jaw tightened. Tears welled in her eyes, but her own stubbornness refused to let them fall.

“That was crass. I’m sorry.” I downed the last of my drink and pulled the new one closer. 

“He’s my husband,” she said emphatically, trying to convince us both of something we already knew.”

“Yes, he is,” I conceded.

“And he’s not supposed to sleep with anybody else.”

“No. He’s not.”

“And you’re not supposed to sleep with a married man.”

“No, I’m not.”

She leaned away from the table and tried to take in the whole of me. I got the impression that she’d anticipated pushback, some fight that I did not give. I waited for the question I knew she wanted to ask next.

“So why do you do it then? Why are you sleeping with him, especially when you know he’s married?”

I pondered telling her that the answer did not matter. It would not take her pain away. It would not give her any reassurance or make the reality of him with me any easier to bear. I chose the gentler cruelty.

“He’s light for me, too.” I picked up my glass, letting the sun shoot its rays through it, and swallowed the drink in one gulp. I was full and just starting to float.

“How is he light for you?”

“We all got our own heavy, sweetie. You know, the stuff we press down so far inside us we almost forget it’s there. The stuff we run full speed away from without ever moving our feet. But every now and then that heavy is real and hard and ugly, and we all gotta find light somewhere.” I closed my eyes to feel the booze lift me from the table and muffle the sounds of forks scraping plates.

“So what’s your heavy?”

“Ha!” I laughed, sinking back into the surety of my seat. “I ain’t drunk enough to spill those beans.”

She laughed, too, and for a moment, it was easy between us. Like girlfriends out for an early dinner before duty pulled us homeward. 

“Am I really that heavy for him?” 

“Not you, sweetie. Just the idea of you. He loves you. Ain’t no question at all about that. But the two of you have so much more to do and think about and be, and that gets heavy. I ain’t making excuses for him because it’s all an inexcusable mess. And one thing’s for sure: you are a much better wife than he is a husband because you wouldn’t be sitting here all broke up about me if you found your own light to run off to every now and then.”

“I could, you know. Find my own light.”

“Of course you could.” Her mahogany skin looked even better behind the haze of vodka. “But you won’t. It’s not your style.” I smiled at her, and she reciprocated before she remembered it was me who gave that smile to her.

“You’re not a good woman,” she spat at me.

“Nope.” I giggled. “I’m a bad, bad girl,” I sang in my best Fiona Apple impersonation.

She wasn’t amused.

“What does he see in you?” she asked.

“Oh, sweetie. I ain’t nothing more than a dream he can reach out and touch every once in a while. I’m a white sofa. Cute but impractical as hell.”

“A white sofa?”

“Yeah, that’s me. You probably got some brown or gray sofa with blankets or slipcovers. Am I right?” I didn’t wait for a response. “Well, I have a white sofa with white throw pillows and a white fluffy rug. And I drink Kool Aid or Dr. Pepper on that sofa. When he came over for the first time, he sat right down on that sofa, and I didn’t say a word. And everytime he comes back, the first thing he does is sit on that sofa and dream for a little while. Then he gets up, kisses that dream of his goodbye, and heads back home to what he really loves.”

“That doesn’t make any sense.” 

“Dreams never do. And it ain’t my job to make it make sense to you.” I had started to feel my own irritation. “I make sense to him. And he makes sense to me.”

“This wasn’t a good idea,” she said, letting a fist fall hard to the table.

“No. It wasn’t. I told you that on the phone. I don’t know what you thought you were going to hear.”

“The truth.” She whispered excitedly, trying not to make a scene. “That’s what I wanted to hear. Not some psycho-babble about light and dreams and sofas. I want you to tell me the truth!”

“That psycho-babble, as you call it, is the truth. But no, you don’t want the truth. You want the facts, right? You want to know how often he comes by my house. You want to know if he likes my cooking better than yours. You want to know if he sweats the same on top of me as he does on top of you. That’s what you really want. Right? You don’t want the truth of it. You want the gutter, the raw, the unfiltered facts of it all so you don’t have to face the truth.”

“Face it? Isn’t that what I’m doing here?”

“No!” I almost shouted. “You want to see me. You want to know me. Because somehow knowing who I am will make the truth of you more bearable. It won’t! If you don’t love you enough by now, all by yourself and independent of me or him or any damn body else, you have a lot more problems than what sofa your man chooses to sit on.”

The waiter set a tall glass of water in front of her and another drink in front of me. “I’m all good now, dear. This is the last one for me. You can bring the check,” I said.

“I’m not here for you,” she countered after some introspection.

“Oh, really?” I questioned. I took a long, slow drink from my glass. “Well, answer me this then. Have you told him that you know about me?”

“Not yet. I wanted to…”

“Talk to me first, right?” 

“Well, yes. But that’s because…”

“Tell yourself whatever you want, sweetie. The truth is that I didn’t marry you. I didn’t confess before God, family, and neighbors that I would have you and only you. He did.”

I handed the waiter my credit card as soon as he came to the table with her to go order. 

“You don’t have to pay. I asked you to come.” She started to reach into her purse.

“It’s not a big deal. I got it.”

"I can give you cash..."

"I said, 'I got it.'"

She allowed defeat to penetrate every pore of her perfect face.

“I will talk with him, you know. I planned on confronting him after I met with you. He’s picking me up. I just wanted to ask you to respect our marriage and to no longer pursue him.”

I laughed. 

“I don’t understand what’s so funny. I’m asking you woman-to-woman to back off.”

“Sweetie, I’m the white sofa. I’m the dream. I don’t chase the man. He conjures me up. Then he sees me across a crowded room and makes an excuse to come over and chat. He asks for my number. He invites himself to my place. I’ve never once called him up first or initiated a conversation via text. I don’t send him emails or sexy pictures. I don’t pursue. I’m pursued.”

“Are you really this arrogant?” Her eyes narrowed as she studied me.

I finished the last of my drink and signed the receipt. 

“I’m just honest, sweetie.” I rose from the table. “I hope you and Gregory figure things out.”

I headed toward the door, avoiding the familiar swagger at the hostess stand. “Just picking up my wife,” he said. “She’s meeting with a friend. I think she ordered my dinner to go.”

My phone vibrated in my pocket as I reached the corner.

“Janine, did I just see you at Jacob’s Steakhouse?”

“Yeah, baby.”

“Oh wow! I thought that was you. You look great. I was going to call out to you, but I didn’t want my wife to see us talking or something.”

“That’s smart, I guess.”

“I have been thinking about you lately. A couple days at least. It's so funny I ran into you. Like my dream coming true. Can I see you tonight?”

“Let’s see how you feel after you eat something first. Ok, baby?”


December 14, 2023 12:41

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3 comments

Marty B
19:15 Feb 10, 2024

Thats a great description of the cheating husband, looking for the dream when reality becomes too much. I liked this line- 'I ain’t nothing more than a dream he can reach out and touch every once in a while. I’m a white sofa. Cute but impractical as hell' Thanks!

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Philip Ebuluofor
17:00 Dec 26, 2023

That your real pics? If yes, hmm! Something is might not be a fiction work here. Anywhere, congrats.

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Mary Bendickson
01:28 Dec 21, 2023

What a guilt trip! Had him pegged. Lots of insight into a messed up marriage but unfortunately a lot of truth sticking out all over. Don't know if that one is salvageable.

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