|Publisher:||Graydon House Books|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
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He comes over on Thursday of every week. That's my day, I'm Thursday. It's a hopeful day, lost in the middle of the more important days; not the beginning or the end, but a stop. An appetizer to the weekend. Sometimes I wonder about the other days and if they wonder about me. That's how women are, right? Always wondering about each other — curiosity and spite curdling together in little emotional puddles. Little good that does; if you wonder too hard, you'll get everything wrong.
I set the table for two. I'm a little buzzed as I lay out the silverware, pausing to consider the etiquette of what goes where. I run my tongue along my teeth and shake my head. I'm being silly; it's just me and Seth tonight — an at-home date. Not that there's anything else, we don't do regular dates very often at the risk of being seen. Imagine that ... not wanting to be seen with your husband. Or your husband not wanting to be seen with you. The vodka I sipped earlier has warmed me, made my limbs loose and careless. I almost knock over the vase of f lowers as I place a fork next to a plate: a bouquet of the palest pink roses. I chose them for their sexual innuendo because when you're in a position like mine, being on top of your sexual game is of the utmost importance. Look at these delicate, pink petals. Do they make you think of my clit? — Good! To the right of the vaginal flowers sit two white candles in silver candlestick holders. My mother once told me that under the flickering light of a candle f lame, a woman can almost look ten years younger. My mother cared about those things. Every six weeks a doctor slid a needle into her forehead, pumping thirty cc's of Botox into her dermis. She had a subscription to every glossy fashion magazine you could name and collected books on how to keep your husband. No one tries that hard to keep their husband unless they've already lost him. I used to think her shallow back when my ideals were untainted by reality. I had big plans to be anything but my mother: to be loved, to be successful, to make beautiful children. But the truth is that the heart's desire is a mere current against the tide of nurture and nature. You can spend your whole life swimming against it and eventually you'll get tired and the current of genes and upbringing will pull you under. I became a lot like her and a little bit like me.
I roll the wheel of the lighter with my thumb and hold the f lame above the wick. The lighter is a Zippo, the worn remnants of a Union Jack f lag on the casing. The flickering tongue reminds me of my brief stint with smoking. To look cool, mostly — I never inhaled, but I lived to see that glowing cherry at my fingertips. My parents bought the candleholders for me as a housewarming gift after I saw them in a Tiffany's catalog. I found them to be predictably classy. When you're newly married, you see a pair of candlestick holders and imagine a lifetime of roast dinners that will go along with them. Dinners much like the one we're having tonight. My life is almost perfect.
I glance out the bay window as I fold the napkins, the view of the park spread out beneath me. It's grey outside, typical of Seattle. The view of the park is why I chose this particular unit instead of the much larger, nicer unit overlooking Elliott Bay. While most people would have chosen the view of the water, I prefer a view of people's lives. A silver-haired couple sits on a bench, staring out at the pathway where cyclists and joggers pass every few minutes. They're not touching, though their heads move in unison whenever someone goes by. I wonder if that will be Seth and me one day, and then my cheeks warm as I think of the others. Imagining what the future holds proves difficult when factoring in two other women who share your husband.
I set out the bottle of Pinot Grigio that I chose from the market earlier today. The label is boring, not something that catches the eye, but the austere looking man who sold it to me had described its taste in great detail, rubbing his fingers together as he spoke. I can't recall what he'd said, even though it was only a few hours ago. I'd been distracted, focused on the task of collecting ingredients. Cooking, my mother taught me, is the only good way to be a wife.
Standing back, I examine my work. Overall, it's an impressive table, but I am queen of presentation, after all. Everything is just right, the way he likes it, and thus, the way I like it. It's not that I don't have a personality; it's just that everything I am is reserved for him. As it should be.
At six o'clock sharp, I hear the key turn in the lock and then the whistle of the door opening. I hear the click as it closes, and his keys hitting the table in the entryway. Seth is never late, and when you live a life as complicated as his, order is important. I smooth down the hair I so painstakingly curled and step from the kitchen into the hallway to greet him. He's looking down at the mail in his hand, raindrops clinging to the tips of his hair.
"You got the mail! Thank you." I'm embarrassed by the enthusiasm in my voice. It's just the mail, for God's sake.
He sets the pile down on the little marble table in the entryway, next to his keys, and smiles. There is a tilt in my belly, heat, and a flurry of excitement. I step into the breadth of him, inhaling his scent, and burying my face in his neck. It's a nice neck, tan and wide. It holds up a very good head of hair and a face that is traditionally handsome with the tiniest bit of roguish scruff. I nestle into him. Five days is a long time to go without the man you love. In my youth, I considered love a burden. How could you get anything done when you had to consider someone else every second of the day? When I met Seth, that all went out the window. I became my mother: doting, yielding, spread-eagle emotionally and sexually. It both thrilled and revolted me.
"I missed you," I tell him.
I kiss the underside of his chin, then the tender spot beneath his ear, and then stand on my tiptoes to reach his mouth. I am thirsty for his attention and my kiss is aggressive and deep. He moans from the back of his throat, and his briefcase drops to the floor with a thud. He wraps his arms around me.
"That was a nice hello," he says. Two of his fingers play the knobs of my spine like a saxophone. He massages them gently until I squirm closer.
"I'd give you a better one, but dinner is ready."
His eyes become smoky, and I silently thrill. I turned him on in under two minutes. I want to say beat that, but to whom? Something uncoils in my stomach, a ribbon unrolling, unrolling. I try to catch it before it goes too far. Why do I always have to think of them? The key to making this work is not thinking of them.
"What did you make?" He unravels the scarf from his neck and loops it around mine, pulling me close and kissing me once more. His voice is warm against my cold trance, and I push my feelings aside, determined not to ruin our night together.
I smile and sashay into the dining room — a little hip to go with his dinner. I pause in the doorway to note his reaction to the table.
"You make everything beautiful." He reaches for me, his strong, tanned hands tracked with veins, but I dance away, teasing. Behind him, the window is rinsed with rain. I glance over his shoulder — the couple on the bench are gone. What did they go home to? Chinese takeout ... canned soup ...?
I move on to the kitchen, making sure Seth's eyes are on me. Experience has taught me that you can drag a man's eyes if you move the right way.
"A rack of lamb," I call over my shoulder. "Couscous ..."
He plucks the bottle of wine from the table, holding it by the neck and tilting it down to study the label. "This is a good wine." Seth is not supposed to drink wine; he doesn't with the others. Religious reasons. He makes an exception for me and I chalk it up to another one of my small victories. I have lured him into deep red, Merlots and crisp Chardonnays. We've kissed, and laughed, and fucked drunk. Only with me; he hasn't done that with them.
Silly, I know. I chose this life and it's not about competing, it's about providing, but one can't help but keep a tally when other women are involved.
When I return from the kitchen with dinner clutched between two dishtowels, he has poured the wine and is staring out the window while he sips. Beneath the twelfth-floor window, the city hums her nightly rhythm. A busy street cuts a path in front of the park. To the right of the park and just out of view is the Sound, dotted with sailboats and ferries in the summer, and masked with fog in the winter. From our bedroom window, you can see it — a wide expanse of standing water and falling water. The perfect Seattle view.
"I don't care about dinner," he says. "I want you now." His voice is commanding; Seth leaves little room for questions. It's a trait that has served him well in all areas of his life.
I set the platters on the table, my appetite for one thing gone and replaced by another. I watch as he blows out the candles, never taking his eyes from me, and then I walk to the bedroom, reaching around and unzipping my dress as I go. I do it slowly so he can watch, peeling off the layer of silk. I feel him behind me: the large presence, the warmth, the anticipation of what's to come. My perfect dinner cools on the table, the fat of the lamb congealing around the edges of the serving dish in oranges and creams as I slip out of the dress and bend at the waist, letting my hands sink into the bed. I'm wrist-deep in the down comforter when his fingers graze my hips and hook in the elastic waist of my panties. He pulls them down and when they flutter around my ankles, I kick free of them.
The tink of metal and then the zzzweeep of his belt. He doesn't undress — there's just the muted sound of his pants falling to his ankles.
After, I warm our dinner in the microwave, wrapped in my robe. There is a throbbing between my legs, a trickle of semen on my thigh; I am sore in the best possible way. I carry his plate to where he is lying shirtless on the couch, one arm thrown over his head — an image of exhaustion. I cannot remove the grin from my lips, though I try. It's a break in my usual facade, this grinning like a schoolgirl.
"You're beautiful," he says when he sees me. His voice is gruff like it always is post-sex. "You felt so good." He reaches up to rub my thigh as he takes his plate. "Let's talk about that vacation we're taking. Where do you want to go?" This is the essence of postcoital conversation with Seth: he likes to talk about the future after he comes.
Do I remember? Of course I remember. I rearrange my face so that it looks surprised.
He's been promising a vacation for a year. Just the two of us.
My heart beats faster. I've been waiting for this. I didn't want to push it since he's been so busy, but here it is — my year. I've imagined all the places we can go. I've narrowed it down to a beach. White sands and lapis lazuli water, long walks along the water's edge holding hands in public. In public."I was thinking somewhere warm," I say. I don't make eye contact — I don't want him to see how eager I am to have him to myself. I am needy, and jealous, and petty. I let my robe fall open as I bend to set his wine on the coffee table. He reaches inside and cups my breast like I knew he would.
He is predictable in some ways.
"Turks and Caicos?" he suggests. "Trinidad?"
Yes and yes!
Lowering myself into the armchair that faces the sofa, I cross my legs so that my robe slips open and reveals my thigh.
"You choose," I say. "You've been more places than I have." I know he likes that, to make the decisions. And what do I care where we go? So long as I get him for a week, uninterrupted, unshared. For that week, he will be only mine. A fantasy. Now comes the time I both dread and live for.
"Seth, tell me about your week."
He sets his plate down and rubs the tips of his fingers together. They are glistening from the grease of the meat. I want to go over and put his fingers in my mouth, suck them clean.
"Monday is sick, the baby ..."
"Oh no," I say. "She's still in her first trimester, so it will be that way for a few more weeks."
He nods, a small smile playing on his lips. "She's very excited, despite the sickness. I bought her one of those baby name books. She highlights the names she likes and then we look through them when I see her."
I feel a spike of jealousy and push it aside immediately. This is the highlight of my week, hearing about the others. I don't want to ruin it with petty feelings.
"That's so exciting," I say. "Does she want a boy or a girl?"
He laughs as he walks over to the kitchen to set his plate in the sink. I hear the water running and then the lid of the trash can as he throws his paper towel away.
"She wants a boy. With dark hair, like mine. But I think whatever we have will have blond hair, like hers."
I picture Monday in my mind — long, pin-straight blond hair, a surfer's tan. She's lean and muscular with perfect white teeth. She laughs a lot — mostly at the things he says — and is youthfully in love. He told me once that she is twenty-five but looks like a college girl. Normally, I'd judge a man for that, the cliché way men want younger women, but it isn't true of him. Seth likes the connection.
"You'll let me know as soon as you know what you're having?"
"It's a ways off, but yes." He smiles, the corner of his mouth moving up. "We have a doctor's appointment next week. I'll have to head straight over on Monday morning." He winks at me and I am not skilled enough to hide my f lush. My legs are crossed and my foot bounces up and down as warmth fills my belly. He has the same effect on me as he had on the first day we met.
"Can I make you a drink?" I ask, standing up.
I walk over to the bar and hit play on the stereo. Of course he wants a drink, he always wants a drink on the evenings when we're together. He told me that he secretly keeps a bottle of scotch at the office now, and I mentally gloat at my bad influence. Tom Waits begins to sing and I reach for the decanter of vodka.
I used to ask about Tuesday, but Seth is more hesitant to talk about her. I've always chalked it up to her being in a position of authority as first wife. The first wife, the first woman he loved. It's daunting in a way to know I'm only his second choice. I've consoled myself with that fact that I am Seth's legal wife, that even though they're still together, he had to divorce her to marry me. I don't like Tuesday. She's selfish; her career takes the most dominant role in her life — the space I reserve for Seth. And while I disapprove, I can't entirely blame her, either. He's gone five days of the week. We have one rotating day that we take turns with, but it's our job to fill the week with things that aren't him: stupid things for me — pottery making, romance novels, and Netflix; but for Tuesday, it's her career. I root around in the pocket of my robe, searching for my ChapStick. We have entire lives out-side of our marriage. It's the only way to stay sane.
Pizza for dinner again? I used to ask. He'd admitted to me once that Tuesday was a takeout-ordering girl rather than a cooking girl.
Always so judgmental about other people's cooking skills, he'd tease.
I set up two glasses and fill them with ice. I can hear Seth moving behind me, getting up from the couch. The soda bottle hisses as I twist off the cap and top off the glasses. Before I'm finished making our drinks, he's behind me, kissing my neck. I dip my head to the side to give him better access. He takes his drink from me and walks over to the window while I sit.
I look over from my spot on the couch, my glass sweaty against my palm.
Seth lowers himself next to me on the couch, setting his drink on the coffee table. He reaches to rub my neck while he laughs.
His eyes are dancing, flirtatious. I fell in love with those eyes and the way they always seemed to be laughing. I lift one corner of my mouth in a smile and lean back into him, enjoying the solid feel of his body against my back. His fingers trail up and down my arm.
What's left to discuss? I want to make sure I'm familiar with all areas of his life. "The business ...?"
"Alex ..." he pauses. I watch as he runs the pad of his thumb across his bottom lip, a habit I'm endeared to.
What has he done now?
"I caught him in another lie," he says.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Wives"
Copyright © 2019 Tarryn Fisher.
Excerpted by permission of Harlequin Enterprises Limited.
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