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“I’m sorry,” said Lana.

We were sitting at the kitchen table, which felt oddly formal for two people who normally ate dinner in front of the TV. All of the other rooms in the house were dark. The kitchen light was bright, old, and yellow, and it made me feel like I should’ve been in a musty basement instead of our luxury apartment.

I wasn't surprised by the results. He’d never looked like me.

“Who’s is he?” I asked quietly, actively forcing myself to not grit my teeth.

Lana said nothing. She looked at me with big, sad eyes. She didn’t need to tell me. I already knew.

Lana’s emotional affair occurred before our son was born. It left in her a state that I’d never seen her. For nearly a year, I had no idea how to explain the vast differences in her moods. She was like two different people. Fire and water. She was either so happy that she practically shimmered, or she couldn’t get out of bed and wouldn’t eat more than a few bites of food for days. She’d never mentioned any type of mood disorder before, but I couldn’t think of what else could be making her behave so erratically.

       Then, several weeks before we found out that she was pregnant, she changed. Like magic, she was her old self again. Lana had always been remarkably composed and well put together. She’s slow to anger, and she was blessed with an overabundance of patience. At first, I’d feared that she was having some sort of psychotic break. There wasn’t much that I could do for her, other than hold her at night in bed while she cried silently. I don’t know if she was trying to hide her tears, or if she'd resigned to weeping openly, but when I got up to use the bathroom there was a wet spot soaked through on my t-shirt. I remember fingering the spot, touching her fallen tears and wondering why there were so many.

       But the way she became herself again changed all that. It made my worries disappear. I chalked it up to stress at work, or hormones, or something that I couldn’t control or understand and didn’t know anything about. Whatever it was, she had to figure it out on her own, and apparently she had.

       Of course, in retrospect, her moods weren’t the only sign that something had gone wrong. Looking back, I know that I’m an idiot for not seeing it sooner.

       Lana had mentioned a male coworker of hers several times. I knew that they worked closely together. He was new, and Lana trained him and taught him how to his job, and after that they worked together on some projects. I met him once, at her company's holiday party, and I remember not liking the way he looked at her. But Lana wasn’t a cheater, had never been a cheater. Plus, we were engaged. I mean, we hadn’t set a date yet, but she was my fiancé. She wore a diamond ring on her left ring finger. That meant something.

       She became very protective of her phone. Passcode and fingerprint scan to unlock. She was texting constantly; her phone was practically glued to the palm of her hand. She also began working later than usual. Lana had always had a solid work-life balance, so this was odd, but I didn’t question it. I still didn’t see what was in front of my eyes. And now, looking back, what was happening was glaringly obvious.

       It was Lana who confessed. I didn’t find out on my own, and she only told me after it was already over.

       She cried, and she told me she loved me. She apologized profusely, constantly. At first, it was hard to look at her, but when I asked if it was physical, she said no. Later, she told me that it had been physical, but no actual sex. I chose to believe her. I don’t know if I knew that she was lying back then. Maybe I didn’t really believe her, but I wanted to. I wanted to go back to how things were. I missed her. She also told me that the male coworker no longer worked at the company. I assumed that his wife or girlfriend found out about the affair and made him quit.

       Later, I found myself thinking, who could blame him? Lana was beautiful. She still is. She has huge gray eyes, framed with unnaturally long, thick eyelashes. Her hair is long and dark. She’s tall and slender. She’s both modest and enchanting at the same time. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her immediately? I had. How could anyone be immune to her, indifferent to her?

       I wondered what was missing. Clearly, she had been searching for something that was lacking in our relationship. I wasn’t giving her something that she needed. But when I asked her what it was, she only shook her head. She always said, “Nothing,” but I didn’t know how that could be true, and I couldn’t give it to her if I didn’t know what it was.

       It seemed like things were back to normal. Lana was no longer secretive. She was open. She handed me her phone and told me that I could read her texts and emails if I wanted. She came home when she said she would. I felt proud that we were going to make it. We had worked through a major issue like mature adults. We hadn't given up on our relationship, or on each other, and that meant something to me.

Lana was sick a few weeks later, after her confession. We both assumed it was the flu. Eventually, Lana figured it out. I came home one evening to Lana sitting on the couch in the dark, a positive pregnancy test in her hands. She handed it to me and looked at me anxiously, like she didn’t know what I would say or how I would react.

       We both wanted children. We were in our mid twenties, we had finished college, we both had decently paying jobs. We weren’t well off by any means, but we could do it. We could be parents. I hugged her and told her that I was happy. We weren’t married yet, but we’d been together for nearly six years. We were having a baby.

       Lana didn’t seem overly happy. She looked scared. But she warmed up to the idea of being a parent as her pregnancy progressed, and she had a normal, healthy pregnancy. She gave birth to our son, Jack, two days after her due date.

       Jack looked nothing like me. That was apparent from the beginning. But he also didn’t look much like Lana, so I didn’t think about it too much. But every day, his tiny face looked more familiar in a way that made me feel ill in the pit of my stomach. I couldn’t place it, but it was there, and I chose to ignore it. I had a family – a soon to be wife, and a child. All of us healthy and happy. I didn’t want to ask questions that had answers that could ruin it.

Almost every night of the first year of Jack’s life, I’d lay in bed and think about it. Sometimes Lana would be next to me, sleeping peacefully on her side, facing away from me. Other times, she’d be feeding Jack in his nursery, rocking him in the wooden rocking chair. And other times, I’d think about it after I woke up with Jack in the middle of the night and fed him his bottle. My eyes were heavy with tiredness as I mixed his formula in the kitchen, trying to get it ready quickly but to also make it the perfect temperature, not too hot and not cold, testing it on the delicate skin on the inside of my wrist. Once Jack had fallen back to sleep and I put him down in his crib, I’d go back to bed, and I’d think about it.

       One night after I got Jack to sleep, I didn’t go back to the bedroom. I went to the living room and opened my laptop. I went to Facebook.com, and I searched for his name.

       What I saw felt like a punch in the gut. My son looked just like him. It was uncanny. Spitting image.

       I didn’t know what to do. My mind breezed through the possibilities, in no order: it was a coincidence, Lana had lied to me, I had to keep this to myself, I had to tell him, I had to confront Lana, I had to know the truth, what if I never saw Jack again, what if Lana left me, what if I left her, where would I live, I’d have to find an apartment and a lawyer and it would be very expensive. All I knew for sure, at that moment, was that I couldn’t continue to live like this.

Seeing Lana as a mother was sweet. She took to motherhood well. She was loving and devoted to Jack, but she remained herself. She didn’t lose herself in motherhood. We found a highly reputable daycare near my office so that Lana could go back to work.

       After I saw his Facebook photo, I saw the way Lana was with Jack differently. She held him and cared for him like she was taking care of her best, most precious secret. And I couldn’t help but see them together differently. He wasn’t our son, he was her son.

       It took weeks of gathering the nerve before I told Lana that I was taking Jack for a paternity test. She was sitting up in our bed, reading a novel, her back propped up against a folded pillow. I spoke quietly. She simply said, “Okay,” and went back to her book.

I picked up the results from the paternity test after work on a Thursday. After I read them and they confirmed what I already knew, I drove to a local restaurant with a bar. I sat at the bar on a stool and ordered a beer. Then I ordered dinner, ate, and went home.

       I found Lana in the kitchen, sitting at the table with a glass of red wine. It was like she was silently preparing herself for when I came home. I handed the paper with the results to her. That’s when she stood up, looked at me, and said, “I’m sorry.”

       We looked at each other for a long moment. “When did you know?” I asked.

       “Know what?” she said.

       “Know that he wasn’t mine.”

       A flicker of some emotion flashed in her eyes, but it was inscrutable. “After he was born,” she said quietly.


       She thought for moment. “Just…the timing.”

       I nodded, letting her words sink in. After a long pause, I said, “You lied to me.”

       She said nothing.

       “Why? Why didn’t you tell me from the beginning?”

       She turned so that she was facing me directly. “Does it matter? Do you love him any less?” she asked.

       “Of course I love him. I’ve been raising him as my son for the past year.”

       “Then, okay,” she said, sitting back down in her chair, like the issue was resolved.

       “We can’t live like this,” I said, slightly appalled by how she was acting, but also not, because that was her: calm and prepared and unflappable.

       She said nothing. She kept her eyes on her wine glass, which she held by the stem in her hand.

       “This is his child. He deserves to know,” I said. “I’d want to know.” I wanted to be firm about this, not give her the easy way out.

       She didn’t respond, she simply got up from the table again. “I’m not telling him,” she said. “But if you feel the need, be my guest.” And with that, she disappeared up the stairs.

It was, quite possibly, the most awkward Facebook message I’d ever written. He didn’t respond for two days. When he did, it was brief, and we agreed that we all needed to meet.

       The three of us met at a local coffee shop chain. My mom watched Jack for us because Lana insisted on not bringing him. I couldn’t tell if she felt more shame or annoyance by the whole thing. I couldn’t help but see her differently now. Before, I’d had her on a pedestal, but now, we were eye level.

       After I’d confronted her with the paternity test results, I slept on the couch, and I’d been there since that night. I didn’t know if we were getting divorced, or taking a break, or what we were doing at all. Maybe we were doing nothing.

       When we got there, we all sat down a table that was too small for three people.

       “How are you, Lana?” he said when we arrived, and his voice was both cold but filled with longing. What a combination, I thought. I wondered for the first time if he still loved her.

       “Fine,” she said. She was the opposite. Her tone was void of emotion.

       We sat in silence and sipped our coffees. He stared at her. Eventually, Lana said, “I don’t know why we’re doing this.”

       “Screw you, Lana,” he said. “We had a fucking kid together and you didn’t tell me. That’s…fuck you,” he said.

       “You have a wife,” she snapped, “who you chose to stay with.” My heart dropped. I hadn’t known this. Had she given him a choice? When he chose his wife, was I Lana's last resort?

       “That doesn’t matter. We have a child. That’s family.”

       Lana rolled her eyes. “Please,” she said. “You never seemed to care much about family before."

       “That was different.”

       “This is all so fucking complicated,” Lana said. She sighed deeply, distressed. “I don’t want to talk about we did or didn’t feel back then.”

       He just shook his head, looking away.

       Lana leaned forward, trying to make him look her in the eyes. “You chose someone else over me. That told me enough. You were a huge mistake, and I’ll regret it forever.” She blinked back tears. “I don’t want someone who doesn’t want me. Actually, I didn’t ever want to see or speak to you again, but my fiancé insisted, and I understand that and it’s fine, but I don’t want this.”

       When she finished talking, she looked relieved. I realized that she had been waiting a long time to say that to him.

       We didn’t come to a resolution that day. Nothing was decided. We all needed to think, cool off, and process the ways our lives were going to change.

       Lana and I drove home in silence. It had started to rain out. She stared out the window at the droplets forming on the glass. And in that moment, I understood that she had loved him. But she didn't love him anymore, and I didn't know if I loved her anymore, either.

       I pulled into the driveway and put the car in park. Neither of us moved to take off our seatbelts. I reached over and took her hand in mine. When she looked at me, her eyes were filled with tears.

April 11, 2020 23:11

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1 comment

Peace Nakiyemba
21:58 Apr 22, 2020

I like your story, Amy. I like the way the secret is delivered and the progression of the story. Some of the phrases you use are well-placed and deliver a whole lot more than just explanation. Like the paragraph that starts 'After I saw his Facebook photo...' We already know the end-ish but it keeps one hooked to the very end. Again, I like your story. The main character pushes for the meeting at the bar but doesn't get a word in to share what his thoughts were. Perhaps it would have been nice to get a word or two in to drive the conversa...


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