I sit down on the small upper platform, leaning myself towards the wall while keeping my hands holding the edges of the stepladder. My arms ache, and my back hurt but my heart feel satisfied.
I caress my tummy and whisper, “For you and this family, mom did this.” I stretch the corner of my lips to brush off my guilt of the long kept truth that I did not tell Steve. “Mom finds it difficult to trust people, even your dad. Keep it as a secret between the two of us, baby. Now mom can keep an eye of your dad.”
I pull out my phone from my pocket and tap the screen. Finally it shows the right angle. Now I can see my front door area from my phone. I wink at the surveillance security camera that I spent my last hour putting it in the right position.
My phone rings.
“Hi honey. Oh, I’m reaching home soon. I will prepare a dinner for us. Yeah, I was just talking to the baby. She seems quiet now, maybe she’s sleeping. See you. Love you.”
I exhale a long breath before I step down and fold it. I look again where the camera sits.
I hope it won’t be that obvious for Steve to realize what I put there as he walks in to home later.
As I step down the ladder and fold it, I keep ensuring myself that it is fine to install a camera to watch over my property area. Who knows that our neighbors are busybodies who bothers to walk in to our home area randomly?
“Hello there. It seems you are new in this neighbourhood,” a voice broke my wandering mind.
A lady in orange polo shirt and white short smiles at me. Her short hair is covered by white baseball hat, although some short hair in silver is seen around her temple. Probably she is around sixty years old.
“Yes, I am. I’m Emily Evans. My husband and I just moved in to this city early this year, but we didn’t have time yet to know our neighbours. And you are?”
“Call me Mrs. Coleman. I live two doors from here. I usually jogs at this hour and finds your home quiet all the time. It’s the first time I see somebody in the house.”
“I usually work and come home a little late. My husband works at home, but he is out today for a meeting.”
“Is it your first?” she looks at the bump of my tummy.
“Yes, our first baby. She’s around 12 weeks now.”
“I hope she’s healthy, looking at how busy you work, even at home.” She glances over my tummy to the ladder that I’m holding.”
“Oh, it’s just a simple fix. My husband, Steve, who does the repairing and more… labour work.”
“Don’t overdo yourself. Young couple nowadays overestimate themselves in everything they do,” she rolls her eyes. “Just come by to our home if you need anything.”
“Sure. Thanks, Mrs. Coleman. Have a good day.”
I check my phone, and realized that I do not have much time. First thing first, I get to rush myself clearing the mess that I made with the drill and my wall’s debris.
It’s 7 PM and I’m almost ready with the dinner. As I turn off the stove and pour the slow cooked beef to a small bowl, I hear the beep sound from the garage.
In just a minute I can welcome Steve by the dinner table together with his favorite dishes.
After waiting for five minutes by the dining area, I have not seen Steve walked in. The distance of our garage and dining area is less than a minute even if you decide to crawling instead of walking on your feet. I can’t sit still in curiosity, so I walk over to the garage.
Steve was busy looking down to his phone when I found him. “Is everything okay?”
He startled over my greeting. “You scared me. Yes, things are okay. I was texting with my friend. How is our little baby?”
We exchange kisses and walk to the dining room. “Our sweet baby is excited to see Daddy coming home. She moves around.”
“That’s the sweetest greeting ever! Love you, baby.” Steve kisses my tummy.
“Your old friends?” I started digging while preparing his cutleries and getting himself a glass of water.
“Hm… a new friend actually. Your stew looks so delicious,” he seems not interested to talk about his new friend.
“Thank you. I left the meat in the slow cooker since morning, so it’s not only delicious but tender.” As I put the the glass of water on his side, his phone which sits next to him lights up. A message coming in.
He grabs his phone quickly and keeps it in his pocket. That is unusual move from Steve. “Oh, I love to try it then!”
“Let your friend wait until you finish your dinner.” I hate to sound like his mom, but I can’t pretend that I didn’t notice it.
He clears his throat and grab his spoon to scoop out the stew.
We have been married for almost nine months. We had our marriage counseling in our three monthsary, and had a couple of fights. I left this house for my parents’ house for weeks because he was wavering when I proposed starting our marriage all over again. When I thought that our marriage was over, he came to pick me up in my parents’ house.
It was a rough start in the beginning, and now things are getting better. I learned to control my temper, and he started expressing his thoughts and feelings. Well, we learn to communicate better.
This ask-do-not-assume communication exercise that he proposed is not working that well recently. Steve is not telling me why he has been easily distracted by text messages nowadays, even in the morning, and dinner time like this. I want him to be present mentally. I meet him in the morning and the evening only, so is it too much to ask for him to leave his friend for a couple hours with me?
I believe he should be communicating this new friend to me also. He should know that surviving in ambiguity is not my forte. If he is not talking, then I will find out by myself who is Nat. Yes, it’s the name of his new friend that I managed to peek from his phone screen just now.
This morning, I was making a breakfast in the kitchen when Steve walked out to the laundry room with a basket of soiled clothes. I have been waiting for this chance, it’s Steve’s laundry schedule.
Immediately, I turned off the stove and slunk over to the bedroom. I snatched Steve’s phone, opened the screen lock with my finger print and tap on the messaging app to see his chat with his new friend, Nat.
No profile picture.
‘Are you free tomorrow?’ Steve sent the message yesterday.
’I’m at the usual place. Just come by anytime.’
‘Great. I need to talk to you. I need some advice.’
‘We meet over lunch at Lucie’s Diner.’
“Emily, I saw you in the kitchen just now.”
I almost had a heart attack. Steve’s voice was heard from my back.
Luckily I was sitting by the bed, so he did not see that I was tampering with his phone. I slipped his phone under the comforter, said that I lost one of my earring and found it on the nightdesk.
Now it’s ten minutes before lunch time. My colleagues left for early lunch while I’m still on my desk, wondering if I need to be worry about Steve’s meeting. The voice in my mind to check out this Nat kills me. I don’t feel hungry now. My bulb lights up.
I typed in the cloud service, and logged in to Steve’s phone account in a minute. His phone was my birthday present to him, so I set everything up including his account, password and all. His location pin shows that he is at Lucie’s Diner.
I bit my fingers.
This time I accessed his phone book and dialed Nat’s number from my phone.
Nobody is picking up. I tried again.
“Hi Nat. You may not…” I explained to the coarse voice from the other side. It’s hard to tell if it’s a girl or a guy’s voice.
“Nat is not around. Just leave a message, okay?”
Despite the unfriendliness of Nat’s friend, or whoever, it is obvious that Nat does not want to be disturbed this lunch time.
I turn off my car and look at the front door. Few days have passed since the day I called Nat’s number. I still cannot find peace of mind or resolution to this curiosity that kills me. I don’t even know how to ask to Steve, just to clear things away.
I imagine another evening pretending that I am fine while brushing off million possibilities of what is happening with Steve, his friend Nat, and our marriage. Honestly I am tired thinking of all the possibilities. I wipe the warm flow from my eyes.
Maybe it’s just my mind. Maybe there’s nothing really happened and I’m just mistaken with all the situation. Maybe it’s the pregnancy hormone that triggers the overly sensitive side of me.
“I’m sorry to confuse you, Babe.” I mumble softly to my bump. “Daddy is a faithful man, and he has been working so hard for us. He works at home most of his time, even at night. There is nothing wrong with him meeting with his new friend once in a while.” I pulled out my phone and checking on today’s recording. “You see, he must have felt so lonely to be at home by himself most of the time.”
I close my eyes and blink few times seeing the camera recording that Steve had a guest today. A brown hair lady in her blue navy cardigan covering white shirt and wearing red skirt walked to our home. Her face was covered with black sunglasses. She disappeared from the camera after Steve opened the door. I fast forwarded the record. She went out again after more than an hour in our home.
Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Exhale.
It’s time to practice my anger management method. I said to myself, “I will speak to Steve calmly. We can talk things out like adults.”
I walk out from my car and open the front door. The living room is as neat as I saw this morning. I walked slowly to Steve’s office room. He is on the phone on his reclining chair.
“That’s a good idea. Yeah, I will talk about this to Emily. Hey, I will introduce her to you next time. Thanks for the surprise, Nat. The cookie is nice and the book seems interesting. I will read it.”
Steve saw me walking in to his office and he hung up his call.
“Hi, honey. I have something sweet for you.”
I see the chocolate chip cookies that he offered to me. The one he mentioned from Nat. I cannot tell what my facial expression this time, I just feel tired fighting with my own thoughts.
Steve can tell something is wrong. “Are you okay? Come sit in my chair. You look tired,” he got up and guided me to sit on his chair.
I follow him. I look at the only book lying on his desk. ‘HOLD ME TIGHT’ says the title of the book.
My mind is blank in finding explanation about receiving such book from a lady.
“Who is Nat?” I tried to tone down my voice. I need to be calm. I need to make him speak or I’ll have another sleepless night.
“Ah, you heard what I was talking about earlier? Nat is my new friend. I will introduce you to Nat next time.”
“Who is Nat?” I repeated. “Who is Nat to you? Why are you not telling me about your new friend? Are we supposed to practice an open communication? Why did she come and give you cookies and book? What did you do at home with her?” I couldn’t resist the curiosity about Nat again.
Steve nods. He senses that I am anxious about things that he keeps unknown to me.
“I met Nat in one of the day when you left home to your parents. It was around four months ago. Nat gave me some marriage advices, one of them is to ask, do not assume. We are friends since then.”
He picks the cookies and the book.
“These are Nat’s first present. We don’t do gift exchange. I was not expecting this also. I wonder why did you know that it was a lady who came here.”
“I put a camera in our front door.”
He nods again. “I see… She is Nat’s wife. She baked the cookie today and was thinking to bring the book that Nat bought for me. So she came with her husband giving the address of our home.”
“How did Nat know about our address? Wait.. you said, husband?”
“Remember that before you left home the other time your car couldn’t start? Nat was the mechanic.” Steve reached his phone. “Give me a second.”
In less than a minute, Steve and I are making a video call with Nat. It took a while to connect.
“Steve, why the video call suddenly? You know I don’t do much stuff with my phone though I’m good with machine.”
“My wife just want to say hi to you Nat. Nat, this is my wife, Emily. Emily, this is Nathan, my friend. His famous name is Nat. He fixed your car months ago.”
Nat does not look like what I was imagining at all. He’s a silver haired guy, wearing a specs, and his black beard mixes with some white hair.
“Hi Emily. You look so young. I hope the book that I gave you will be helpful.”
“Hi Nat. Thanks for fixing my car and being Steve’s friend. But.. why the book?”
“It’s a good communication book that may help your marriage. Don’t be misled by the title, like me.” He laughed so hard and called his wife to be on the call. I recognized her as the lady in the camera. “My wife wanted to meet Steve and gave him some insights about talking with a woman. Once she started speaking, her lecture is hard to stop.”
Steve continued the talk for a little longer, knowing that I was not in the right state of mind to talk further.
My mind was blank. It’s embarrasing.
“Nat is revealed. No more mystery, Mrs. Detective.”