Jessica sat opposite the journalist, two half-full coffee cups on the small table in front of them. Kerry was polite enough, but Jess had a sense of impending doom given the direction the questions seemed to be heading in, and given that it was live TV, she couldn’t afford to put her foot in it at all. She picked up her coffee and sipped it, if anything to give herself chance to formulate an answer.
“Let’s talk about you and Alex, then,” Kerry smiled. “What’s going on there?”
“Well… we’re together. That’s about it.” Jess sipped her coffee again. “Not much to tell, really.”
“He’s a divorcee, right?” Kerry asked. “How did you feel about that when you met?”
“I mean, I already knew he had a wife when I met him. We worked together.” Jess shrugged. “There’s really nothing to tell. We’re together, he has his history, I have mine.”
“Hmm…” Kerry wasn’t convinced, but the small voice in her ear told her to wrap it up. Jessica clearly wasn’t going to talk about the rumours circulating about her affair with her boyfriend which caused his marriage to break down. “Alright, Jessica, we’ll leave it there. Thank you so much for joining us this morning! And good luck with A Night to Remember, which hits theatres when?”
“Oh – July 7th,” Jess smiled. “So get your tickets!”
As soon as Jess was freed from the stuffy interview room, she fell into step beside Marcus, her agent, who laid out the rest of her day. No more press stuff, thankfully.
“That was well-handled,” Marcus smiled. “Good job.”
“I could've done better. I just don’t know why everyone thinks I’m to blame for Alex’s marriage falling apart?” Jess took a bottle of water from Marcus and drank deeply.
“Because, honey, there are rumours that you guys were sleeping together while doing Hairspray – that’s big news, seeing as you’re both long-time Broadway stars. It’s juicy gossip, cheating.”
“It wasn’t cheating!” Jess cried, shaking her head. She didn’t have time to argue, though. Marcus was needed for the rest of the day by other clients, and Jess had a lunch date with a friend.
“You rocked it this morning!” Ida was perhaps the best hype-man a girl could ask for. Jess hugged her tightly as they sat down to a peaceful lunch in Ida’s uptown apartment, where the roof terrace was hers and hers alone. “Although again with the cheating questions…” Jess said nothing through her mouthful of kale and salmon. “Are you going to address that shit, by the way? It won’t go away, otherwise.”
“And say what?” Jess muttered. “It wasn’t cheating. His marriage was done for before he met me. He told me that himself.”
“He’s hardly going to tell you he’s leaving his wife for you, Jess!” Ida smirked. “I mean, that would be way too cliché, I assume. Not that ‘my marriage is dead in the water’ isn’t a huge cliché, but at least that’s a lesser one.”
“Why would he lie about that? He wasn’t happy with her. He told me everything. She was abusive to him, too.” Jess sat back and regarded her friend with some accusation. “Why? What do you know?”
“I don’t know anything. I’m just saying, the rumours aren’t going to go away, and you kind of did cheat. I mean, he cheated. With you. And if he can do it with you –“
“He can do it to you. Yeah. I know.” Jess rolled her eyes. “But he won’t do it to me. Look… Alex told me he’d regretted the wedding and all of it as soon as he said ‘I do’. I met him after he’d taken those vows and even his friends said he was miserable when he should have been a super sexed-up newly-wed. He was anything but. So, not cheating.”
Ida stared at her. “But they were together when you fucked, right?”
“Yes! But it wasn’t cheating if the marriage was already dead! Come on! He didn’t leave his toxic abusive wife for me! He left her because she was toxic and abusive!” Jess set her plate down and wiped her mouth. “He came into rehearsal one day and had scratches down his face and neck. And along his arms. Not sex ones, either – harm ones. And he was tearful and upset. You’re going to tell me he wanted those?!”
“No. I’m just saying, Jess, the rest of the world will see what they want to see. They won’t care. Claire’s well-known in the industry, and if she speaks out before you do… bye bye career, that’s all I’m saying.”
“Right… but Alex doesn’t want to talk publicly about it, and if I go behind his back or I do it alone, I’m going to look like the spiteful husband-stealing homewrecker. Which I’m not.” Jess pinched the bridge of her nose. “So, what do I do?”
“You’ve a point,” Ida murmured.
“Technically, yes, it was cheating. Yes, I had blazing hot sex with a very married man, and yes, he kept the ring on. In practice, was he married to her? No. He was divorced, and just looking for an out that wouldn’t ruin his career… or mine, for that matter.”
“Jess, it’s not me you need to convince. And you know how I feel about cheating… yet here I am.”
“I know, Ida, I know.” Jess stabbed a piece of kale with a little more force than was necessary. “I guess I just want her to go away. She’s awful and he’s afraid of her, and I am too… I don’t like any of this.”
“Then speak to Alex about going public.” Ida smiled reassuringly. “And eat. I want doughnuts or cake or something after this.”
“Alright, Alex, how does that feel?”
Alex hopped down from the physio bed and tested his ankle. He’d rolled it during rehearsal, and since then it had been tight and painful. Mike, his physio, was excellent.
“Miles better, thanks Mike.”
And that was that. The usual banter had gone from their sessions. Alex had known Mike since college – more than ten years of friendship had culminated in frosty receptions whenever Alex needed a muscle restoring. All because Mike had Found Out About the Affair.
“Mike, for God’s sake!” Alex sighed, pulling his sock on. “Please drop it?! I can’t handle this any more!”
“You know how I feel about it, Alex. I’m not there for it. I can’t support it.” Mike made a note in Alex’s file and snapped it shut. “Claire is a great girl and she deserved way better than you cheating on her with some British whore.”
“A great girl?! Mike, she used to hurt me! Physically!”
“Grow up, Alex. Man up, in fact.”
“What?!” Alex shook his head. He pulled his trainer on and stood there, stunned. “Are – are you seriously going to defend her?!”
“I’m going to defend someone who was the victim of cheating, yes.” Alex stared at him. “And you can pull that face all you like. Cheating in any capacity is wrong.”
“Right. What about throwing my phone so hard at my knee that it cracks my patella?” Alex’s voice was quiet. “Or putting so much salt in my food because I didn’t take out the trash? Or cutting up my bank cards because… I don’t actually know why she did that.” He sighed. “She was horrible, Mike. She was abusive. I hated myself while I was with her. She always made me feel like I’d never amount to anything. Since I decided to leave her, I had so much confidence… and when I met Jess…” He ran a hand through his hair. “I was given a lot of love and a lot of support. And I took it, because whenever I went home, I had every negative review or comment thrown at me, and I was told it wouldn’t last.” Mike said nothing. He felt uncomfortable. “And… and I did try to make things right with Claire. I did. Lockdown… when we were all shut up together… I did try… but she was nasty when she couldn’t work and I got voice acting gigs… I knew it was over, then. When she deleted a couple of files I’d spent hours on, right before a deadline… and we didn’t have a lot of cash. I was scared of her.” Alex’s throat closed up, and he stopped talking.
He remembered the times during those lockdowns when Claire would scream so loudly at Kevin, Alex’s dog, while Alex was on a Zoom call with voice directors, receiving his notes, and Kevin would wet himself with fear. And then Kevin would be thrown out of the house and into the garden for it. Alex tried keeping him in the room with him, but it didn’t work well – Kevin was afraid of everything those days, and needed to be constantly close to Alex otherwise he’d cry and whine. And then when Claire brought up the idea of having a baby… Alex wasn’t ready for it, and he told her so gently. She’d lashed out then, too – wasn’t she good enough for him? Why did he hate her so much? Was he infertile? Or maybe it was because he simply couldn’t satisfy her… Jessica’s reaction, therefore, from simply sliding onto him… he knew he didn’t lack ability when it came to sex. Otherwise, Jess would have felt the same way, right?
“I… I had no idea things were that bad…” Mike sat down. He swallowed audibly; he’d helped rehabilitate Alex’s knee, but he’d told him some mumbled story about how he’d fallen at home while practicing something… for someone who swallowed ego regularly, and communicated everything clearly – regardless of how embarrassing – Alex had been a little less vocal about the knee injury… Alex also couldn’t lie good. Even then, recounting those horrors, he didn’t lose eye contact, and the tears in his eyes were genuine.
“Yeah. Well. I didn’t want Claire’s reputation to be muddied. I just wanted to get out of there and be with someone who didn’t belittle every success I have… Jess is incredible, Mike. She’s everything I wanted in a girl. I only see that now because Claire isn’t destroying my self-esteem daily.”
“Right… so… so what happened with Jessica?”
“Technically, I did cheat. I was still married to Claire when I met Jess, and when we slept together… but I’d already started planning the divorce when I slept with her. I’d already spoken to a lawyer about it. Jess helped me out with some cash, and my parents did too… I wasn’t proud of having to ask for money, but the pandemic took all my savings.” Alex gave a shrug. “But it was worth it. We both had to wait for a time when Claire couldn’t destroy our careers.” Mike nodded. “So… I did cheat. But not because I wanted two women.”
“I see…” Mike looked down. “Fuck. I’m sorry, man… did you go to the police about it?”
“No. What would they do? Laugh me out of there.” Alex pressed his lips together. “Besides, she’s a stellar actress, Claire. She had my entire friend group hoodwinked. I had to FaceTime them and show them the scars on my throat one night, just so they’d believe me that I needed to get out. And then Jessica spoke to them and told them, too…” Alex stared off at a spot on the carpet.
“Then maybe this needs to go public, Al,” Mike said gently. “Otherwise… well. People will think like I do.”
“I know. But I don’t want to bring up things I can’t fix now… and I don’t want to ruin Claire’s life, either. She was a shit human, but I can’t justify stooping to her level.”
“Think about it, Alex.” Mike stood and hugged him. “I’m sorry, Alex. I should have been there.”
“Don’t worry about it, Mike. You’re here now. That’s all I care about.”
Claire scanned the article before her, scoffing here and there at the words so carefully put together by the journalist. Kerry Smith had a way with words, but not a way that Claire enjoyed. Jessica’s rise to fame – and her army of loving supporters – had been salt in the wound for Claire. The bitch had stolen her husband, and she was adored for it?! And then she refused to speak about it publicly?! Alex too had pissed her off. Both of them choosing to keep quiet about the entire affair, as though they’d waited until the divorce had finalised to start shagging each other. Literally, on the day they’d finalised the divorce papers, Alex had been wrapped up in that little homewrecker.
So why did no-one give a shit?!
Claire had a plan, though. Her life had been tipped upside down when Alex had asked her for a divorce. And the world still thought he was a sweet and gentle thing, just like his new piece… it made her blood boil. A few days after Kerry’s article had been posted, Claire was sitting in an office opposite a different journalist, Anna, for an international glossy magazine. Jessica’s name had been in it three times already – the fourth would ruin her.
“Alright, Claire, let’s start with the divorce. When did Alex ask you for it?”
“Well, it was shortly after his Broadway run in Hairspray. He’d been more reserved – you know, through the lockdown? Like way more reserved than normal. Hairspray was supposed to be his next big break, seeing how huge it was… but lockdown was tough on both of us. He was out of work, I couldn’t cast anyone because there were no productions… life got really hard. Anyway, he was doing pretty well on Broadway, and then he called me into the living room this one night, and handed me an envelope. He told me he wanted a divorce. He said he wasn’t happy with me.”
“Oh? And then what?”
“I asked him why, and he said he wasn’t in love with me anymore. He said he’d wanted more from a marriage, but that it hadn’t been a good move – you know, the usual stuff? All he was short of was saying ‘it’s not you, it’s me’… but he actually told me it was me. I was the problem.”
“What?!” Anna stared at her. The Dictaphone on the table between them blinked reassuringly.
“Yeah. I know. So I took the papers, and we chatted about the problems we were having…” Claire gave a sigh. She’d figured out which parts were okay to tell the world, and which parts weren’t. Throwing all the ornaments at Alex and cutting his arm with a photo frame wasn’t for the public. But then, if he hadn’t told her how abusive she was, she wouldn’t have been so angry.
“Right. Did he give any reasons why?”
“No, not really. But then I found out there was another woman.”
“You’re… well, you won’t believe it.” Claire looked down. “No-one does. Because they’re the power couple of the century. They’re the Broadway babes.”
“Are… are you saying… Jessica was the other woman?!” Anna’s eyes were huge. She didn’t have a gleeful look on her face, though; she liked Jessica. Jessica had done a lot of work with various children’s hospitals with Make a Wish – how could she have caused a divorce?!
“Jessica was the other woman. She stole my husband and ruined our relationship. I don’t know when they started sleeping together, but it must have been before lockdown hit. Alex was always on his phone, always texting, walking the dog for ages and ages…” Claire wiped her eyes, mock crying. “But I never thought he’d actually be cheating on me.”
“Right… I mean… that’s awful… I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with that, Claire.” Anna struggled with the gravity of this information. This didn’t need to be a hit piece… she’d ask the editor. “How did the divorce proceedings go?”
“It was clear she was in his ear the entire time. She was always there at the end of every hearing. We never signed a pre-nup, so I had to fight him for half of what we had. We sold our house and split it evenly. He has a lot more money than I do, and I never got a cent off him.”
“Jesus – so he left you with nothing?”
“Half a house.” Claire sniffed. “And he went and had his career and his new squeeze…” she rolled her eyes.
“What an asshole.”
“So after the divorce, what happened? Because we know Jessica and Alex got together a few months later?”
“Ha, they kept it quiet. Because they were working together, it was normal to see them together. But you check those photos – they’re really close.” Anna nodded. “They were together the entire time.”
“That means… several months?”
“At least two years, actually.” Claire sniffed. “But that’s all I have. I just wanted my story out there.”
“Well, I’ll speak to my editor to see how we can frame this… but Claire, we’ll tell your story. Don’t worry about it.”
It took a few agonising weeks for Claire’s piece to be published in the magazine. It went straight online, which pissed Claire off a bit, but more research had been done, and the general consensus was that they hadn’t cheated. Claire had in fact been abusive, but Alex didn’t want to dig up old hatchets, and wasn’t into ruining Claire’s career. But yes, there had been abuse. He’d shown his scars on TV, and Jessica had been there next to him. And then, they’d admitted the ‘affair’, but Alex had said his marriage had been over for a while at that point. And the internet agreed with him that, on a pure technicality, it wasn’t cheating. Claire was livid, but what could she do? It was true; on a pure technicality, they hadn’t cheated. She’d lost Alex, and Jessica had won him.
You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.
Hi Amy. I've been asked to review this a part of the critique circle. Firstly, well done for an interesting storyline - this is the fifth story I've read for this prompt and although all but one of the others dealt with a wife-husband-mistress storyline, this one was quite different due to the showbiz background and the conversations with reporters/interviewers and friends. I also think that by giving Jessica's viewpoint first, you set up lots of questions for your readers e.g. Is Jessica telling the truth? What really happened? There are...
Hi Jane, Thanks for your feedback, I appreciate it! This story was actually a follow-on from another story for another prompt, titled "Secret Love Song", in which Jessica and Alex were introduced. I just didn't have the word count to explain that in the beginning (Reedsy is VERY particular about the wordcount). Regarding the grammar points, I was trying to emulate actual speech - when friends are talking (at least, when I've paid attention to conversations when on a terrasse with a beer having a chill), I notice they don't tend to adhere...
Dear Amy, thanks for telling me about the other story - I’ll make sure I check that out too. I love it when stories on Reedsy are connected to others. Re your point about trying to emulate speech and so not using correct grammar, I made the same point myself this week to someone who helpfully pointed out a ‘typo’ in mine, not realising that I’d deliberately missed out a word to make it sound more like natural speech, so apologies for being over zealous there! Looking forward to reading the earlier story, Jane
Honestly, I would much rather have a beautiful discussion like this about the facets of writing, than a simple 'great story!' - I actually REALLY appreciate the fact that you went into detail and noted those things! <3 That means a lot! I didn't get chance to check out your work yet (I've been doing the drab 9-5 all day), but now it's the weekend... so plenty of time to read! :D Take good care, lovely Jane! xx