Maya wasn’t supposed to be at Thad’s party and she hadn’t called ahead, so Stu didn’t expect to encounter her at his father’s place. He certainly didn’t appear to be thinking of her now, as he and Annette stumbled down the hallway together, so lost in their groping and clothes-shedding they almost bumped into her as they passed. Maya had just arrived and was on her way to the kitchen when they burst into the corridor. She’d scurried into an empty room to hide. And spy.
Maybe I would have been better off at home, nursing that quart of butter pecan, she reflected glumly as she watched them through a crack in the door.
She’d traded shifts with another resident late in the day and gained a rare reprieve: an unexpected night off. A week earlier she would have sworn that, given a choice, she’d spend the evening in stretch clothes in front of the idiot box; or curled up in bed with a novel in anticipation of an early date with her pillow. But she’d been restless that morning, was irritated by the constant stress attending a job comprised of incessant medical emergencies on too little sleep. She was also fed up with her own insular thinking, which had her so inwardly focused all the time, she wondered if she twitched or spoke to herself aloud in front of others.
Mostly she wondered if she would ever be fulfilled and happy again. Probably not, since all she ever did was work, and she got nothing but heartache from her husband. She foresaw no relief on the horizon, either… and this put her in a rebellious mood.
She didn’t want to be alone on the couch, disconnected from friends and family and stuck in her own head, so, hang it, she wouldn’t be. She wanted empty companionship and irresponsibility for a change. She decided to show up at Thad’s, surprise Stu, and have a drink or three like a normal, overworked twenty-something about to go out of her mind.
As Maya watched Stuart’s hands roam all over Annette, she guessed her husband would, indeed, be surprised to see her right about now.
She considered confronting them but didn’t, something she briefly regretted later, because doing so would have meant a clean break then and there; no follow-up explanations required, no need to regurgitate any drama related to what she saw as the final insult to their marriage. She would have felt better, too, if she had for once slipped out of the role of tolerant, supportive wife. Or if she could have given her upper-crust man a dose of the same disapproval he shared so easily with her, all on matters that didn’t count.
This counted. Not, she realized, because it was any new affront, but because this time Stu and Annette thought they were alone. They were not in someone’s kitchen during a party or out at a bar putting on a show, which made their current flirtation seem more personal… and way more deviant. With no one else around to buffer her – or remind her why she wanted to keep up a façade – Maya saw her circumstances in severe and unflattering detail. Like she really was on the outside of her marriage looking in, which she supposed she was. This was actual adultery, not superficial flirting. She could not pretend otherwise.
It all put too fine a point on her predicament, Maya thought, because it concentrated the loneliness that had come to characterize her home life, loneliness she alone seemed to feel in their marriage. Not because she begrudged Stu his need for fun – she really didn’t – but she felt begrudged, maybe because she didn’t have it in her to cheat. And she’d refused to give up and leave. Was this what Stu hoped, that she’d cat around like he did and be the one to end them? Maybe. Maybe he wanted her permission to be faithless and feel blameless.
She couldn’t give it, but neither could she go back on her word, the one she’d given on her wedding day before God and family… and cue the standard mental review of what had gotten her here and what she was going to do about it. She always arrived at the same place during these reflections, where her choices were to stay put and endure or leave and start over, neither prospect tenable to her. Her mental habits on the subject were now rote, her responses had become mere reflex.
They were also tiresome and frustrating.
Earlier in the week, she’d been sick enough of thinking through the same dead-end cycle of what-ifs, she’d reached out to talk to someone, a first for her. She’d called Kate, who was not shocked by what Maya revealed of Stu’s extramarital doings. Maya acknowledged to herself that no one who knew him would be. Kate had a lot to say on the matter, too, although she did not interrupt as Maya related the whole of her conundrum.
Maya told her everything, starting with her misgivings from before her move to New York, followed by what she’d believed of Stuart at their wedding and then immediately after. She described her steady, careful reactions over the years when Stu had left her hurt and floundering in front of friends. Mostly, Maya unburdened herself, sharing her worries over how she had contributed to her own dissatisfaction, her ongoing self-doubts, and her unrelenting and escalating unhappiness no matter what she said or did about Stu. Kate listened without comment, but afterwards, she was furious, and Maya thought she might be angrier with her than Stuart.
“You’ve been living with this for seven years?” Kate inquired acidly. “And you haven’t talked with anyone?”
“More or less.”
“Your sisters? Your mother?”
Kate all but yelled at her then. “Why, Maya? We love you. We could have helped.”
Maya massaged her forehead. “I don’t see how. It’s not like any of you could have said anything to my husband.”
“No, but we could have said something to you, honey. Stu’s a jerk, but that’s his problem, not yours.”
Maya’s laugh was humorless. “That actually makes me feel better, that you think it’s all on him. It isn’t.”
Kate answered her after a long pause, during which Maya sensed her friend’s struggle to curb her anger, to come off as reasonable. “You should leave him, Maya. Life’s too short – or maybe it’s too long – to live with someone who doesn’t care.”
Maya hesitated enough to let Kate know her advice was considered. “I can’t do it, Kate. I just can’t.”
Kate sighed. “Yes, you can. You’re strong and brave. And gorgeous. And you’re too young to spend the rest of your days doing… I don’t know, let’s call it romantic solitary confinement.” She huffed and muttered, “I know someone who could spring you.”
Kate’s comment prodded a deep and dormant hope in Maya, one she couldn’t afford to have awakened. She didn’t think she could survive the disappointment if Kate’s inklings – and her own, as well – proved false. A lump formed in her throat, precluding her attempt at a reply.
Kate responded as if she’d commented anyway. “I shouldn’t have said that. Gabe would kill me for even thinking it.” Then before Maya could speak, she rushed to add, “Maybe we could light a candle at church. Or chant prayers or make a burnt offering. Ooo! I have a copy of Anna Karenina we could set on fire! How perfect would that be?”
Now, watching Stu and Annette fall all over each other, Maya wished she’d taken Kate up on her suggestion and relied on something other than her own powers of reason to get her out of this misery. In fact, she wondered if her friend wasn’t right, if she should have aired her problems sooner to friends and family. Maybe she would have gained a clearer understanding of her options, could have spared everyone, Stuart included, some of the heaviness and angst they’d lived with since their wedding day. Whether due to stubbornness or pride though, she’d elected to keep her own counsel; the years had passed, nothing changed, and she’d stayed stuck.
She sensed she might be getting unstuck at the moment, though. By the time Stu and Annette had reached the end of the hallway, Maya was contemplating one of her previously unthinkable options without her usual resistance, maybe with a little hope. Stu fumbled with his key, opened the door to his father’s office, and disappeared inside with his lover. The latch didn’t quite catch, meaning the door shifted open slightly, allowing a sliver of a view into the room. Maya crept forward.
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