“Julia, hey, would you like to get a coffee?” Laura asked as she tried to hide the concern in her voice.
Julia glanced around her cubicle and after a moment of thought, said, “Sure, let’s go. There’s nothing here that can’t wait.” Grabbing her purse from under her desk, Julia quickly stood. Then spinning to face her colleague and coworker of four years, immediately noticed the look of uneasiness on Laura’s face.
As the two friends waited for the elevator, Julia turned to Laura and asked, “Is everything alright?”
“Oh yeah,” Laura confirmed. “There’s just something I wanted to run by you.”
Julia locked her gaze on Laura’s face, trying to read the angst in her eyes. But moments later, the elevator dinged, and the doors slid open. The two women promptly entered and after merging with the existing occupants, turned to face the closing doors and stood silently as the crowded car descended.
Arriving at the lobby and making their way to the Daily Grind, Julia continued to question Laura’s apparent uneasiness in her voice and body language. And with a Vanilla Cold Brew in hand, Julia cleared her throat and asked again, “Laura, what is it? What do you want to tell me?”
Julia honestly assumed it was something in Laura’s life. Did she break up with … oh, what’s his name? Or did she screw up in the office, or was there something wrong with her family? She had mentioned her dad was sick – maybe it had something to do with that. She would immediately need to show support and sympathy for her closest friend if it was her dad.
Once seated, Laura slowly sipped her coffee, and after clearing her throat, she took one of Julia’s hands. “I don’t know how to say this. But we’ve been friends too long for me to ignore it.” Julia still had no idea what Laura was trying to tell her, but she suddenly realized this might be serious. “Julia, Aaron is having an affair – he’s cheating on you,” Laura said, fighting a lump in her throat and a tear in her eye.
At first, Julia thought it was some kind of joke. Slowly pulling her hand back, an awkward silence fell over the table. “What do you mean?” Julia finally said. “I mean, we’re in love. Aaron would never cheat on me.” Her body stiffened, and her demeanor went into full defense mode.
Laura reached for Julia’s hand again, but she pulled it further away and just glared in disbelief. “About a month ago, Lance and I were having lunch at the Roaring Forks. And I saw Aaron sitting with a woman across the room from us. At first, I thought it was you. She was blonde, with long hair like yours, about your size, and I didn’t think anything about it. I simply assumed it was you.” Laura paused and took a sip of her cold brew. “But when they stood up to leave, she turned around, and it clearly wasn’t you. I started to say something, but Lance put his hand on top of mine and stopped me.”
“Laura, that doesn’t mean anything. She was likely a customer – or even a coworker.”
Julia had cut her off before she could add how suggestive their body language was, touching, laughing, and generally flirting with each other. But Laura then added, “Last week, I was at the airport flying home to see my dad, and I saw Aaron and this woman holding hands, flirting, and even kissing as they boarded a flight to Memphis.”
Laura took another sip of her drink, and instead of seeing tears well up in Julia’s eyes, her face went red with anger. An awkward silence fell over the table before Julia rose to her feet and shouted, “Why would you say that? Aaron loves me, and his company’s corporate office is in Memphis. You just broke up with Lance. And you want to make my life as miserable as yours. Laura, you are such a bitch!” And with that, she grabbed her coffee and stormed from the Daily Grind.
Laura sat in stone silence as her friend dashed for the elevator. That was not the reaction she had expected. Don’t shoot the messenger, was the only thought that came to mind.
* * *
“Hey Aaron,” Cole said. “You got time for a beer?”
Aaron glanced at his watch, “Sure, a quick one,” he responded. “But I’ve got to be home by six, Julia and I have tickets for the Moody tonight.”
Settling on a bar stool at the Tenth Inning, the two best friends clinked pint glasses, and Cole said, “So, you and Julia have tickets for the Moody tonight?”
“Yeah, this is the seventh anniversary of our first date. I know it’s silly, but we always celebrate the anniversary of the first time we went out together.” Aaron had a bashful smile on his face, making what Cole was about to say even tougher.
“Aaron, we’ve known each other since high school. I think I can honestly say, you’re my best friend.”
Aaron raised his pint to clink glasses again. “Well thanks, buddy. Yes, I think we are best friends.”
“And best friends don’t hold back from each other – right?” Cole said, locking eyes with his friend.
“Damn straight,” Aaron confirmed, sporting a big happy smile from ear to ear.
“Look buddy, I don’t know how to say this, except to just come straight out with it,” Cole said, lowering his eyes. “Julia is cheating on you.”
Aaron’s face went ashen. “What the fuck are you talking about?”
“Look, if you are cool with it, or if it’s none of my damn business, then fine. But we’ve been friends for a long time, and if you are unaware of it, I just feel like it’s my duty to let you know.” Cole took another sip of his beer and added, “You’d do the same for me – that’s what friends do.”
The two stared at each other for an awkward moment, until Aaron said, “That’s not possible.”
Cole took another sip of his beer as this was obviously a very uncomfortable conversation. “Look man, I was passing by your place last week, around ten o’clock. I think you were in Memphis, on business – right?” Aaron nodded. “I saw Julia getting out of some guy’s car, and the two of them walk hand in hand to your apartment. I stopped to watch, and they went in together and closed the door.” Aaron just sat there silently staring, as if he was looking through Cole and not at him.
“Look Aaron, I drove back by your place around seven the next morning on my way to work, and his car was still there.”
Aaron slammed his beer down on the bar and pointing his finger at his high school buddy, said, “There is no fucking way, Cole. Mind your own damn business, Julia loves me, and there is no way she would do anything like that.” And with that, he turned and stomped from the bar.
Cole sat in stone silence as his best friend left the bar without another word. That was not the reaction he had expected. Don’t shoot the messenger, was the only thought that came to mind.
* * *
Laura had never met Cole, but she had heard Julia mention him several times. She had always referred to him as Aaron’s best friend, and as Julia’s denial was so adamant, Laura felt that she couldn’t bring up the issue with her again. In fact, even though they continued to work together, their friendship had definitely cooled. And she had no interest in contacting Aaron, as she was convinced that he was a cheater, and she wanted nothing to do with him.
That’s why she was surprised when her phone rang several days later. She didn’t recognize the number, but it was a local call, and on a hunch, she answered it. “Laura?” a male voice asked.
“Yes,” she responded cautiously. “Who is this?”
“Laura, my name is Cole Newsome. I’m a friend of Aaron Williams.” Laura didn’t immediately say anything, and Cole continued, “I understand you are a good friend of Julia – his wife.”
“Yes,” Laura said, still not sure if this really was Aaron’s friend. And if it was, what did he want?
“Hey, Laura. Aaron and I have been friends since high school. I was his best man at their wedding, and I’d never do anything to hurt him. But a couple of weeks ago, I discovered Julia cheating on him. I didn’t immediately tell him; cause I just simply didn’t know how to say it. But I took him out for a beer last week, and he blew up at me after I told him.”
“I think you have it backward, Cole. Aaron is the one cheating on Julia,” Laura said, a little surprised, as well as pissed, that this guy Cole apparently had it backward. “Look Cole, it’s Aaron that is cheating on Julia. Not the other way around.”
It took Cole a moment to respond. “Laura, a couple of days ago, when Aaron was out of town, I saw Julia entering their apartment with some guy I’d never seen before. And the next day, on my way to work. I noticed that his car was still parked in front of their place.” He paused to see if there was any response. And when there wasn’t, he added, “That guy spent the night – and I don’t think it was her brother.”
“You said your name was Cole?” Julia asked.
“How long have you known Aaron?” Julia questioned.
“Probably ten years or more,” Cole replied. “At least since we were sophomores in high school.”
“Well, I’ve worked with Julia for more than four years. And she wouldn’t cheat on anyone – especially Aaron,” Laura confided. “She is the sweetest, most honest person I have ever met. And I just don’t believe it.”
“Something is going on here,” Cole said. “Do you want to meet for a drink or something? I’m getting the feeling that you have as much trust in Julia as I have in Aaron. We need to figure out what’s going on.”
Three hours later, they met at Little Woodrow’s. “Laura?” Cole asked, as he extended his hand to shake hers.
“Yes,” she responded. “And you must be Cole.”
With cold beers in hand, they found an empty table and sat down. “Okay,” Cole said. “What makes you think Aaron is having an affair?”
Choosing her words carefully, Laura said, “Well, about a month ago, I was having lunch with a friend, and I saw Aaron having lunch with a woman I’d never seen before. And I normally wouldn’t have thought too much about it, except that they were both flirting their asses off.”
Cole took a sip of his beer and said, “Well, that doesn’t really mean they were having an affair.”
“Well,” Laura continues after a sip of her own beer, “I was at the airport last week. I saw the two of them getting on a flight together for Memphis.”
“It could have been a coworker. Aaron works for a company out of Memphis, you know,” Cole offered.
“I don’t think so,” Laura disagreed. “They were pretty lovey-dovey, and I saw them kiss as they headed hand-in-hand for the jetway.”
Cole now took a long swig of his beer. “Laura, I don’t get it. I’ve known Aaron for almost half my life. And I’ve never known him to cheat on anyone or anything.”
“I’d say the same thing about Julia,” Laura confirmed as she dropped her head and blankly stared into her beer.
There was a long unbroken silence as Cole and Laura pondered the likely infidelity of their two friends. “How did Julia take the news?” Cole finally asked.
Laura looking up, said, “She blew up at me. She said I was lying and to mind my own business. She even called me a bitch.”
“That’s the exact same thing Aaron said to me,” Cole exclaimed. “Well, he didn’t call me a bitch – he used more colorful language.”
After each taking another sip of their respective beers, Cole and Laura again dropped their heads in silence. Gradually Cole’s eyes drifted to Laura’s left hand. “You’re not seeing anyone, are you?”
Laura looked up. “No, I broke up with my last boyfriend the same day I first saw Aaron with his mystery woman.” Then realizing that Cole was studying her left hand, she asked, “Are you?”
Cole held up his left hand to show his ring finger. “No, I haven’t been seeing anyone for almost a year.”
Lowering his hand, Cole placed his over Laura’s, “May I ask you something?” he said slowly. She shyly nodded yes. “May I take you to dinner?” he asked.
Laura instantly blushed, “Yes,” she replied. “On one condition.”
“You have to promise me you will never shoot the messenger.”