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His First Wife
By GRACE OCTAVIA DAFINA BOOKS
Copyright © 2008 Grace Octavia
All right reserved.
Chapter One Foolish
October 26, 2007
It was 5:35 in the morning. I was doing 107 on the highway, pushing the gas pedal down so far with my foot that my already-swollen toes were beginning to burn. It was dark, so dark that the only way I knew that I wasn't in bed with my eyes closed was the baby inside of me kicking nervously at my belly button and the slither of light the headlights managed to cast on the road in front of me.
I-85 South was eerily silent at this time. I knew that. I'd been in my car, making this same drive, once before. I kept wiping hot tears from my eyes so I could see out of the window. I should've been looking for police, other cars on the road, a deer, a stray dog that had managed to find its way to the highway in the dewy hours of the morning, but I couldn't. I couldn't see anything but where I was going, feel anything but what I didn't want to feel, think anything but what had gotten me out of my bed in the first place. My husband.
Jamison hadn't come home. I sat in the dining room and ate dinner by myself as I tried not to look at the clock. Tried not to notice that the tall taper candles had melted to shapeless clumps in front me. Knowing the time would only make me call. And calling didn't show trust. We'd talked about trust. Jamison said I needed to trust him more. Be patient.Understanding. All of the things we'd vowed to be on our wedding day, he reminded me. My pregnancy had made me emotional, he said. And I was adding things up and accusing him of things he hadn't done, thoughts he hadn't thought. But I was no fool. I knew what I knew.
Jamison's patterns had changed over the past few months. And while he kept begging me to be more trusting and understanding, my self-control was growing thin. The shapeless clumps on the table in front of me resembled my heart-bent out of shape with hot wax in the center, ready to spill out and burn the surface. Jamison had never stayed out this late. And with a baby on the way? I was hot with anger. Resentful. I was ready to spill out, to spin out, but I held it in.
I helped our maid, Isabella, clear the table, told her she was excused for the night. Then I moved to the bedroom, and while I still hadn't peeked at the clock, the credits at the end of the recorded edition of Ten O'Clock News proved that any place my husband could be ... should be ... was closed. I wanted to believe I was being emotional, but that would've been easier if I didn't know what I knew. Maybe he'd been in an accident. Maybe he was at a hospital. Yeah ... but maybe he wasn't.
I laid in bed for a couple of hours; my thoughts were swelling my mind as round as my pregnant stomach. I knew what was going on. I knew exactly where he was. The only question was, what was I going to do?
Then I was in my car. My white flip-flops tossed in the passenger seat. My purse left somewhere in the house. My son inside of my stomach, tossing and kicking. It was like a dream, the way everything was happening. The mile markers, exit signs, trees along the sides of my car looked blurry and almost unreal through my glazed eyes. The heat was rising. My emotions were driving me down that highway, not my mind. My mind said I was eight-and-a-half months pregnant with my first child. I didn't need the drama, the stress. I needed to be in bed.
But my emotions-my heart-were running hot like the engine in my car. I was angry and sad at the same time. Sometimes just angry though. I'd see Jamison in my mind and fill up my insides with the kind of anger that makes you shake and feel like you're about to vomit. And then, right when I was about to explode, I'd see him again in my mind, in another way, feel betrayed, and sadness would sneak in. Paralyzing sadness, so consuming that it feels like everything is dead and the only thing I can do is cry to mourn the loss. I wanted to fight someone. Get to where he was and kick in the door so he could see me. Finally see me and see what this was doing to us. To our marriage.
I didn't have an address, but I knew exactly where she lived. My friend Marcy and I followed Jamison there one night when he was supposed to be going to a fraternity function at a local hotel. But having already suspected something was going on, I called the hotel and learned that there was nothing scheduled. That night six months ago, before he left, I gave him a chance to come clean. I asked if I could go. "No one else will have their wives there; it's just frat," he said, using the same excuse he'd been using for three weeks. He slid on his jacket, kissed me on the cheek and walked out the front door. I picked up my purse and ran out the back where Marcy was waiting in a car we'd rented just for the circumstance. When Jamison finally stopped his truck, we found ourselves sitting in front of a house I knew I'd never forget. The red bricks lining the walkway, the yellow geraniums around a bush in the middle of the lawn, the outdated lace curtains in the window. It looked so small, half the size of our Tudor in Cascade where the little house might envy a backyard cabana. It was dark and seemed empty until Jamison climbed out of the bright red "near midlife crisis" truck he'd bought on his thirtieth birthday. Then, the living room light came on, my husband walked in. And through the lace I watched as he hugged her and was led farther away from me. I fell like a baby into my best friend's arms. What was I to do?
I promised myself I would never forget that house. So there was no need to look at the address. I knew every turn that had brought me there. I just couldn't figure out why.
Now, here I was nearly half a year later, dressed in a silk, vanilla nightgown at five in the morning, making the same trip, but with a different agenda. I knew why and where, and something in me said it was time to act.
I saw that red truck parked in the driveway when I turned onto the street. It looked so bold there. Like it belonged. Like nothing was a secret. They were the perfect family. There was no wife at home, no child on the way; our love, our love affair, was the second life he was living. She was his wife. I was just the woman he was sleeping with. Sad tears sat in my eyes, my anger refusing to let them roll down my cheeks. Every curse I knew was coming from my mouth as I held the steering wheel tighter and tighter the closer I got. My husband, the person I thought knew me better than anyone else in the world, had turned his back on me for another woman.
I pulled my car into the driveway behind Jamison's and turned off the ignition. The sudden silence hit me like the first touch of cold beach water on virgin feet. Without the hum of the engine, I realized I was alone. I'd gotten myself all the way there, but I didn't know what I was going to do. I knew I had to act, but what was I going to do? Burn the house down or ring the door bell and sell them cookies? And if she came to the door, what was I going to say? Ask another woman if I could see my husband? Curse her out? Scream? Cry? Should I hit her? I hadn't hit anyone in my life. What if Jamison answered the door? What if he was mad and told me to leave? If he said it was over?
The baby kicked again, but lightly, as if he was nudging me to go and get his father out of that house, away from that woman. Coreen Carter was her name. Marcy found it on a piece of mail she'd snatched from the mailbox when we followed Jamison. It was a simple name, but Coreen Carter couldn't be that simple. She had my husband inside of her house.
The anger let go at that thought and the sad tears began to fall again. What was I doing? What was happening with my life? I felt like I was being torn inside out. My baby was the only glue that was keeping me together. I felt so alone in that car.
I snatched my cell phone from the seat beside me and called Marcy. She picked up her phone on the first ring. She was an RN and her husband was an ER doctor, so she was a light sleeper.
"I guess little Jamison is about to make his arrival?" she assumed cheerfully, but I couldn't answer. I was sobbing now. Sadness was coming from deep inside and I was sure the only sound I could make was a scream.
"Kerry?" she called. "You okay? Where are you?"
"Here." I managed. There was no need for me to say where exactly. She knew.
"It's six in the.... He didn't come home?"
"Kerry, why didn't you call me? You don't need to do that right now. Not in your condition."
"I just want this to stop," I said sorrowfully.
"I understand, but right now just isn't the time. You have other things to take care of." She paused. "I know I sound crazy to you, but I just don't want anything to happen to you or the baby. You understand that, right?"
"Yes," I said, with my voice cracking. "But I'm just tired of this crap. I mean, what the hell, Marcy? Why? Why is Jamison here with this woman?"
"I don't know that. I can't answer that. Only Jamison can."
"Exactly." I felt a twist of anger wrench my gut. Again I went from feeling sorry for myself to being angry that I was there in the first place. Jamison was my husband and he was cheating on me and I wasn't going to just sit in a car and let it go on. I slid on my flip-flops and opened the car door.
"What are you going to do?"
"I don't know," I said. I really didn't. But, again, my emotions were driving. I was spilling out like that hot wax and before I knew it, I was charging up the walkway.
"Just don't do anything foolish," Marcy said before I hung up. Later I'd think about how crazy that sounded. How could I possibly do anything more foolish than what was already being done to me?
The little cracked doorbell seemed to ring before I even pressed it. It chimed loud and confident, like it wasn't past 6 AM and the sun hadn't already begun to rise behind me. It was quiet. The only noise I heard was my heart pounding, shaking so wildly inside of me that I couldn't stand still. I waited for another five seconds which felt like hours. My husband was on one side of the door and I was on the other. Our wedding bands and my large belly were the only signs we were connected. I looked at his truck again. It was the only piece of Jamison I could see from where I was and my heart sank a bit farther. The shine of the paint, the gloss on the wheels, it looked so happy, so free, so smug, so complete. Everything he wanted. I was tired of making this all so possible for Jamison. Making his life so comfortable, so happy. His perfect wife, carrying his perfect son. I was alone in my marriage and I was tired.
I began pounding on the door then. Ringing the bell and then pounding some more. My fist balled up and it pounded hard like a rock threatening to burst through. Someone was inside and they were coming out. If there were children inside, a mother and father, a dog, a parrot.... I didn't care. They were all getting up and out of that house.
A small, light brown hand pulled back the sheet of weathered lace covering the square at the top of the door. A woman's face appeared. Her eyes were squinting with the kind of tired worry anyone would have over a knock at the door at 6 AM I'd seen those eyes before, and before she widened them enough to see who I was, my fist was banging at the glass in front of her face. I was trying to break it and if I could break it, I'd grab her face and pull her through the tiny square.
"Tell my husband to come outside," I hollered, my voice sounding much bigger than I was. She looked surprised. Like she never expected to see me or hadn't known Jamison even had a wife. I pressed my face against the window to see inside. To see if Jamison was there behind her. The flap fell back down over the little window and I heard heavy footsteps. I was beside myself. Had totally let go of whoever I was. My baby grew lighter, as if he wasn't even there, and a thunderbolt inside shocked me into action.
"Jamison!" I shouted heatedly. "Jamison, come outside!" I began banging on the door again. I couldn't believe what was happening. I knew it was her. Coreen Carter. I saw her only once before in my life. But when she came to the door that time to let Jamison in, I learned her face the way a victim does her victimizer.
She was what most men would consider beautiful. She had short, curly red hair. From the car I thought it was dyed, but up close I could tell it was her natural color. Fire engine red, like the truck, from the root. She had freckles of the same color dotted around her eyes and her skin was the color of Caribbean sand. Really, she looked nothing like me. In fact, we were complete opposites. My hair was so black and long, most of my friends called me "Pocahontas" growing up. My hair wouldn't dye and most days it wouldn't hold a curl of any kind. And if the skin of the woman in the window was the color of Caribbean sand, then mine was darker than the black sand on the beaches of Hawaii. My mother didn't like to talk about it, but my grandfather on my father's side was half Sudanese, and while he died long before I was born, my father always said the one thing he left behind was his liquorice color on my skin and my perfectly shaped, curious almond eyes.
My cell phone began ringing. I opened it, certain it was Marcy making sure I hadn't killed anyone, but it was Jamison.
"Jamison," I said, looking again in the window to find him. What was this? What was going on? I felt far from him already. Now he couldn't even come to the door?
"Kerry, go home." His voice was filled with irritation.
"What?" I asked. "Are you kidding me? Jamison, come outside." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. He sounded as if I was doing something wrong, like I was out of place.
"I don't want to do this here. It's not right," he said.
"Not right? Not right to who, Jamison? Her? I'm your wife!"
"I know that."
"No, you don't because if you did, I wouldn't be standing out here in my nightgown, eight months pregnant. Or did you forget about that?" I started banging on the door again. Thinking of my child made me furious. I wanted that door down. I'd forgotten all about where I was. People were starting to come out of their houses, but I didn't care. I wanted it to stop and Jamison being on the phone from inside the house wasn't making it any better.
"Kerry, she didn't do anything to you. Just go home and I'll be right behind you." He was whispering like a schoolboy on the phone with his girlfriend late at night.
"I'm not going home. You come out here now or I swear I'll bust the windows in your car and set it on fire if I have to." I couldn't believe the things I was saying, but I felt every syllable of them. At that moment I was willing to do anything, and Jamison must've felt it too. He hung up the phone.
The door opened fast, like he'd been standing on the other side the whole time. Jamison stood there alone, dressed in a pair of boxers I'd bought him.
"Did you really think I was going away?" I asked. Through the corner of my eye, I could see an old lady standing in her doorway next door wearing bright pink foam rollers in her hair and a flowery nightgown. I wanted to lower my voice, but I was beyond caring about embarrassing myself. "What is this? What is this?" I started crying again, but I didn't bother to wipe my tears. I just wrapped my arms around my stomach and held tight. The baby felt heavy again, like he was feeling the weight of the moment.
"I can explain it-" He stopped mid-sentence and reached for me. "It's nothing. I'm just ..."
I stepped away.
"Look, Kerry, I think you should go. I'll put on something and then come too, but I need to get dressed."
"I'll be damned if I let you walk back into that house with that woman," I hollered. "Does she know you're married? That you have a son on the way? Why can't she come out here and face me? Don't be embarrassed. I'm here now." I tried to push my way through the doorway, but Jamison held me back.
"Let me in," I said, pushing my way in farther. "I just want to see her. I just want to see her. I want to see the woman you chose over me."
"Don't do this," he said, pulling my arms. "Don't do anything foolish."
I pulled back and looked my husband in the eyes. We'd known each other for twelve years. He was my first love. The only man I'd ever imagined marrying. He looked so naked standing there in front of me. So defenseless. He had pale, milky white skin, looked almost white sometimes in pictures, and the centers of his cheeks were beet red, the color they turned when he was sad or angry. (Continues...)
Excerpted from His First Wife by GRACE OCTAVIA
Copyright © 2008 by Grace Octavia. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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