I sat on the plush leather couch, with my arms folded and body pressed up against the armrest, as far away as I could possibly get from Kelvin.
Lydia Watson, our marriage counselor, eyed me and then turned her attention to my husband, Kelvin. Once again, she was stuck with the task of figuring out how to get him to open up and communicate during our hour-long session. Now, she could see what I’d been dealing with for the past five years.
She rubbed her chin with a finger, watching us, and assessing the situation. When she’d formulated her next statement to her satisfaction, she finally spoke. “Kelvin, if Karmen has insisted that she needs to know what happened in your affairs in order to move on, why are you resisting telling her?”
I looked over to my right to see him looking down at his lap and fidgeting with his pants. He wiped his palms on his pants legs and folded his hands together. He glanced over at me and finally back to Lydia.
“It’s just...I know if I tell her everything, she’ll lose it,” he told her.
“And if you don’t tell her, don’t you think it will only further exacerbate the situation for you?”
“Yeah, but...she thinks she wants to know, but when I tell her…” his voice trailed off.
“I think I know what I can handle,” I told him. “And I want to know exactly what you did, so at least I don’t have to spend my nights coming up with all of the hundreds of things I can imagine you’ve done with them. At least, I can know.”
He turned his hazel eyes to stare into my own cinnamon brown ones and I could see that he was considering, contemplating, what to tell me. I didn’t like the way he looked as he paused and stared at me like that. Almost as if he was fabricating the best, most convincing half- truth he could think of.
“I want to know it all, Kelvin. And I want the truth,” I said, hoping to beat him to it before he attempted to give me his watered down version of what had happened.
Kelvin shifted his weight, and leaned his elbow on the armrest opposite mine, resting his forehead in his hand.
Lydia chimed in, “How about I help you out, Kelvin? If it’s easier for you, I can start off by asking you the questions that I think Karmen would like answered.”
Kelvin nodded meekly, clearly still not completely on board with it.
“How many women, total, were you involved in affairs with?” Lydia asked.
“Three,” he said, and I could see his body tense up, as he looked at me out of the corner of his eye, waiting for my reaction. He’d told me that he’d been with only one woman when I’d asked him last month.
“What?!” I exclaimed, and turned my body to face him.
“I told you one, because…”
“Yeah, I know, let me guess---because you thought I couldn’t handle it.” I shook my head in disbelief. “I can’t believe you.”
“Would you like to continue, Karmen?” Lydia asked. “Are you sure this won’t be too upsetting? If so, we can stop now."
I raised my hands, “No, no. I’m fine. Continue.”
“And how long did each of these affairs last?”
“The first two weren’t long. Of those, the longest lasted about a month.”
I felt my breathing rate pick up and was suddenly light-headed. Maybe I can’t take it after all, I thought, but I refused to speak it aloud and admit that to him.
“And the last?” Lydia asked. “How long did that one last?”
“Over a year.”
I closed my eyes, hoping to steady the room which now seemed to spin wildly around me.
“Are you alright, Karmen?” I heard Lydia ask beneath my dizzy haze. I opened my eyes and looked in her direction until her face eventually came back into focus in front of me.
“Yes, yes. I’m fine.”
“We can stop, if you’d like,” Lydia offered.
“No,” I said quickly. “I have more questions I need answered.”
I turned to Kelvin, whose face was contorted in a frown. His leg shook involuntarily, as it always did when he was nervous. “So would you have even ended it, if I hadn’t caught you?” But after I’d asked the question, I realized I didn’t really want to know the answer.
He paused, looked down and finally mumbled. “Yes.”
I was quiet, and Lydia asked, “What are you thinking, Karmen?”
“I’m thinking that he’s lying his ass off. I don’t think he would’ve stopped it on his own. If I hadn’t found out about it, I think he would have been with her right now, and not here with me, in this counseling session.”
“No. I was going to end it,” he snapped his head up to look at me. “I was. I just...had to figure out the best way without hurting her.”
“Are you kidding me? Without hurting her?” I threw my hands in the air. I was done with this. “So, what about hurting your wife?!” I exclaimed.
“Alright,” Lydia chimed in, attempting to calm my rage. “How about I ask the questions again?” she asked, looking at me with raised eyebrows and waiting for my permission to continue. I nodded my consent.
“Kelvin, we’re only going through this because it seems that Karmen,” she motioned her hand in my direction, “needs this for closure. Please understand that this is part of her healing process. It may be the only way that you two can come together again and meet in a place of honesty, so that forgiveness may begin.”
Kelvin’s elbow was on the armrest, his hand covering his face in an expression of exasperation. He let out a huge sigh.
Lydia continued, “I think Karmen would like to know, if all of these affairs are over. Are you still in contact with any of the women?”
He answered quickly, “No.”
“And did this last affair end the day Karmen found out about it?”
He was quiet for what felt like forever, and I watched his body tense up again. He didn’t have to say anything. His body language communicated what his tongue would not. No words were needed.
“Kelvin?” Lydia asked, prompting him to answer.
“Do you mean that, no, you didn’t end it that day?” Lydia asked.
“No. I didn’t. I saw her a few times the month after that.”
“Oh my God,” I said, and leaned forward, my hands covering my face as I collapsed into tears.
“But it’s over now,” I heard him say next to me between my sobs. “I ended it three weeks ago. She knows it’s over.”
“Okay, I can see this has gone off track,” Lydia interjected. “How about we re-direct, so that…”
But I snapped my head up and cut her off. I wanted to take advantage of this while I could, since he was finally talking and answering questions. There was a question that had been eating away at me for the past week, since I’d learned of his infidelity. “Did you even use condoms with them?”
He hesitated and then said, “Yes.”
I eyed him. He was lying. The look of guilt was as all over his face. “With all of them? Every time?”
He sighed, and rolled his eyes upward, then back down to stare ahead as he spoke. “No, not every time.”
“Unbelievable,” I spat out. “So, you put my health at risk too, for some cheap piece of ass? Not only that...what if you’d gotten one of them pregnant...I…” I was finally speechless, and couldn’t believe how self -centered and stupid he had been.
Kelvin and I had tried to conceive for years. Four years, to be exact, with no luck. No baby. Not even a close call, or missed period. And realizing that he could have another child out there somewhere, when we’d never had one together in our marriage was more than I could take. I guess he was right. I couldn’t handle it.
I felt sick to my stomach as I imagined all of the perverse things he had probably done with these women while I was at home, waiting for him.
I stood and turned to Lydia. “I’m done for the day,” I said, and walked toward the door to exit. I heard rustling as Lydia and Kelvin rose to their feet and moved behind me.
Lydia caught up with me. “Karmen, I understand this is hard. We can try to…”
I turned to look at her, willfully ignoring Kelvin, who stood next to her. “I’m done for today.” I stormed out of her office, and could hear his footsteps behind me. I didn’t bother to turn around to look at him as I spoke, “Leave me alone, Kelvin. I don’t even want to see you, much less talk to you right now.”
I used the key fob to unlock my car door, pulled it open and fell down into the driver’s seat. Before I could shut the door, he grabbed it, stopping me from pulling it closed. “See, Karmen, this is why I didn’t want to tell you. I knew you’d react like this.”
“You should have told me on your own. We shouldn’t need a counselor for you to be honest with me. And no matter how I react, you’re the one who did it, not me. Whether you tell me or not, it doesn’t change the fact that you were running around with these women and putting my health at risk.” I tugged at my car door, but he wouldn’t let it go. “Let go of the door. I need to go.”
He didn’t budge and kept his death-like grip on that door. We stood there, our eyes locked on one another, neither of us willing to give in. Eventually, he was the first to relent, and said, “Well, when you get home, can we talk some more?”
“I’m not going home. I’m going out.”
He looked confused. “Where are you going?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe the mall, a movie. Wherever I damn well please. At this point, I don’t think you have any right to question where I’m going.” I gave one final, forceful pull on the door and could feel him release his hold, allowing me to slam the door closed. He stepped back as I inserted the key in the ignition and drove away.
I usually hated going to the Westbrooke Mall on Friday nights. It honestly seemed like every family in that suburb had sent out a memo, and collectively decided that Fridays were family mall nights. And when you also factored in the number of couples out for date nights, the crowd size grew to ridiculous proportions.
You couldn’t take more than two steps without brushing up against another person, and getting a little too close for comfort. The Westbrooke suburb had grown too large, too quickly, and the city hadn’t been able to keep up with the rapid increase in its residents.
I asked myself, for what had to be the thousandth time, why I had chosen to move there three years ago. But I knew why. Because we’d found the perfect home, in the perfect city, with the perfect school for all of our future children.
But when, after two more years, those children never came, I asked myself daily why we were living this lie in this too big, two-story home, that felt empty and eerily quiet in the evenings, when I was usually there alone.
I rode the escalator as it moved toward the mall’s second level, with my thoughts running unchecked through my mind. I flashed back to all of the details of the past, analyzing and putting together the pieces of the puzzle of our relationship. I recalled the evenings Kelvin was working late, all of the excuses, and all of the business trips. I realized that as far as I knew, it was likely, all a lie. Every single time he’d been away from me, could have very well been spent with any one of those three other women.
I didn’t know how I would ever be able to believe anything he said again. From here on out, as far as I knew, a run to the store could be a quick stop to meet a girlfriend. Or a night out, watching the football game with friends, could really be an excuse to see another woman. Even a trip to the gym could be his way of stealing a few moments with his woman on the side.
And from where I stood, at that moment, counseling could never be enough to save what remained of this marriage.
The escalator reached the second floor. I stepped off and walked straight ahead to the movie theater. I needed something--anything--to take my mind off of my own problems, if only for a few hours. I needed to escape.
I looked up at the red digital letters on the board above the ticket counter, which listed the movie titles and show times. There was a recently released thriller that I’d been anxious to see, and I searched down the list until I found the title on the board. I was in luck. The movie was starting in forty-five minutes.
And that’s when I felt the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, and a chill run through my body. It was the kind of sensation you get when you feel you’re being watched and observed. I looked around, and it wasn’t long before I found the source of that creepy, crawling feeling.
A few feet from where I stood was a tall, delicious looking caramel-complected man, leaning against the banister overlooking the mall’s first floor level. With one elbow propped up, he looked almost like a male runway model, posing for his photo shoot. Except, there were no cameras around, as his intense dark eyes stared at me mercilessly. He didn’t look away, and our eyes locked for what seemed an eternity. Everything disappeared, and the noisy sound of the mall’s patrons seemed to quiet to a still hush, as I became entangled in his hypnotizing stare.
But then I felt a pain shoot from my toe and travel up my leg, and was shaken from my trance. I looked down to see the little girl who’d accidentally bumped into me and stepped on my foot. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly, as her round and apologetic blue eyes glanced up at me, and she quickly scurried away behind her mother.
I turned back to see if the handsome stranger was still poised on the railing, but he was nowhere to be found. I felt so ridiculous. I was acting as if this was the first man I’d ever noticed watching me when I was out. And it wasn’t. I actually had no problem turning men’s heads when I was out and about. But I’d never paid it any mind. My love for Kelvin and commitment to our marriage made any attention from other men irrelevant before. But, I guess things were different now. Very different.
And anyway, “Mr. Model” was nowhere around, so it didn’t matter. I shook my head, and mentally chastised myself for being so drawn to him in the first place. I moved toward the young woman sitting behind the glass at the ticket counter. “One ticket for Lying with a Stranger, please,“ I said and watched as she clicked the keys on her keyboard until the white tickets and receipt printed out. She ripped them off and handed them to me.
I said a quick thank you and walked past the ticket counter to a young man who smiled at me, his hand outstretched, as he waited for me to hand over my tickets. He tore the duplicate ticket off of the perforated line and handed the other back to me. “Theater Seven, to your left,” he said, and turned to the customer behind me, his hand held out again as he waited for her ticket.
I passed the concession stand, and found myself slowing down as I eyed the candy, ice cream and popcorn snacks. I shook my head and picked up my pace, after wrestling with the thought of grabbing a bite to eat. I didn’t need it. And I wasn’t exactly in the mood to eat anyway. That was at least one good thing that I could say I always had going for me---I’ve never been a stress eater. So, packing on extra pounds wasn’t really my issue. No, my problem was just the opposite. I would always lose my appetite when something bothered me, and keeping the weight on was my struggle.
And then I wanted to scream, because that thought brought me right back to Kelvin, the last person I wanted to think about. He used to say that he liked me thick, and whenever I lost even a couple of pounds, he seemed to notice. He liked women with curves--ample behinds, rounded hips and thick thighs. And I had none of the above. Okay, I may have at least a bump for a behind, but nothing like what I would catch him admiring once in a while, when we were out together.
I have to say, though, that he wouldn’t salivate over other women’s bodies when we were out. His eyes would usually shoot over and away quickly when an attractive woman passed. But he never looked away fast enough to keep me from catching him doing it.
And I had to wonder, did those women he’d had the affairs with, have the “Coke-bottle” figures that he lusted over? I sighed, and tried to clear my head of the images of video vixen women, whose bodies I couldn’t compete with, all over Kelvin, shaking and gyrating their bodies for his enjoyment. Those were pictures that I didn’t want seared into my mind.
I looked up to see that I’d finally reached Theater Seven. I entered the lit theater, and climbed the staircase on the side of the rows of stadium seats until I reached the very top row. It was my preferred place to sit in a theater. In the back row, there was no one behind me, so no need to worry about rowdy, undisciplined children kicking the back of my seat; or hearing the self-proclaimed movie critics behind me commenting on the happenings of the film and predicting the characters’ next move. I moved down a few seats, and plopped down into the chair.
I placed my purse in a seat next to me and rummaged through it until I found my cell phone. I pulled it out, and tapped the button on the side, illuminating the screen. There were three missed calls. All from Kelvin. I rolled my eyes and dropped the phone back into my purse. No way was I calling him right now. At that moment, as far as I was concerned, he could call one of those video vixens and stop blowing up my phone.
I looked ahead at the projector screen and watched the advertisements which played before the start of the film trailers. And then I looked over to my left, to see him again. There he was, the tall handsome stranger that I’d seen leaning on the railing earlier. I watched him turn his head slowly as his eyes scanned the room. Then, before I could turn away in time, his eyes reached the top row, where I was sitting. I turned my attention back to the movie screen and tried my best to pretend to be captivated by the pre-movie advertisements.
And I was doing a great job of it, if I must say so myself, until I saw him out of the corner of my eye climbing the stairs, moving closer and closer to me. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest when I realized that it didn’t seem like he was going to stop until he was at my row. Oh great, I thought, when he walked down the aisle and stopped at the seat next to mine.
The enticing fragrance of his cologne hit me before he even made it to my side, and I squirmed in my seat. I couldn’t believe that I was getting turned on, simply by the smell of this man. Because I knew that if that was the case, the minute I directed my eyes up to look into that gorgeous face of his, my attempts at resistance would be futile.
“Excuse me, is anyone sitting here?” he asked, and pointed to the empty seat beside me.
I glanced up at him quickly, and then shook my head, no. He took a seat, and his scent completely invaded my senses. I looked around the theater, and noticed that there were still plenty of empty seats throughout. So why did he have to choose the one seat next to me?
Here we go, time for the game, I thought, preparing myself for whatever lines he had prepared to try out on me. I mean, what other reason could he have for sitting next to me in a nearly vacant theater than to try to hit on me?
I shifted in my seat and inched as closely as I could to the armrest farthest from him. I lifted my purse out of the seat on my other side, and placed it between us, creating a makeshift physical barrier.
But then I had to wonder why I was still acting like a married woman fending off advances from other men. It had been established that Kelvin hadn’t made much of an effort to fight off advances from other women. So, why was I? Then, my playful side kicked in. If this man wanted to try his game out on me, why not at least see how good it was? I chuckled at the thought, and could see him turn to look at me.
“Something funny?” he asked.
“No, no. Just thinking about something that happened earlier today.”
“Must’ve been hilarious.”
“You know, I come here every Friday, and this is the first time I’ve seen you in here,” he said.
“Every Friday? Really? Dedicated much?”
“No. Just a movie buff,” he answered. “I noticed you outside the theatre, and have to say, I found you quite striking.”
I slowly turned my head to really look at him, for the first time. Was he for real? I raised an eyebrow at him, in an expression that I hoped demonstrated the fact that I was very much onto his game. And it was rather weak. But looking at that firm jawline and those prominent cheekbones all set off by his long-lashed dark brown eyes, I realized that his game was probably weak because a man with his looks didn’t need much of it anyway. I couldn't continue to look at him and keep it together, so I forced myself to turn away.
“Seriously,” he continued, still attempting to convince me of his sincerity. “You are a beautiful woman. And when I saw that you happened to be in the same movie I was coming to see, I can’t lie and say that I wasn’t happy about it.”
“That’s pretty obvious,” I said.
“Well, there have to be at least one hundred other empty seats in here, and you choose to sit in one right next to me. Most people I know, value their personal space.” I turned to look into his eyes to emphasize my next point. “That is, unless, they’re trying to hit on a woman.”
His lips formed a slow grin and he nodded his head. “You got me. So, you’re smart too, I see.”
“Smart? Not much intellect needed to figure that out,” I snapped, in a more annoyed tone than I’d intended. Now, he was just insulting my intelligence. If saying that made me seem smart, I wondered what kind of women he usually dealt with.
“Okay, I can see this is not going too well," he said.
I nodded in agreement.
He reached out a hand, waiting for me to grab it. I looked down at his hand and then back up at him, giving him a quick, flaccid handshake.
“I’m Reuben,” he said.
“You look like a Karmen.”
“Oh? And how does a Karmen look?”
“Like you. Beautiful,” His eyes dropped from my face and traced a path down to my chest, my crossed legs and then back up to my eyes again. “Kinda like the Carmen from the movie, Carmen Jones. Have you ever seen it? You have a natural beauty like Dorothy Dandridge did in that film. A really sexy vibe.”
“Wow. You don’t beat around the bush, do you,” I said. “Coming on pretty strong, there, Reuben.” There was no way that I was going to tell him that my name actually had come from my mother’s infatuation with that film. That would just play right into his eager, but undeniably strong, hands.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t mean to be disrespectful. Forgive me if I’m being too forward.”
I pulled my phone out of my purse to look at the time. This felt like the longest wait for a movie, ever. And we hadn’t even made it to the trailers yet. I’d missed five more calls, I noticed, and swiped to pull up the home screen. They were all from Kelvin, of course. I angled the phone away from Reuben’s curious eyes and typed a text in response. I wrote-- I’m at the movies. Turning off my phone--and dropped it back into my purse.
And Reuben didn’t waste any time. As soon as I put the phone down, he asked, “Boyfriend?”
I turned to him, my eyes wide with shock over his bold audacity. “What happened to you trying not to be so forward?”
“I just assumed...I mean..., you seemed pretty intent on keeping your phone hidden.”
Who the hell does he think he is? This dude acted like he was my best bud and we’d known each other for years, instead of only just meeting about five minutes ago.
“First of all, maybe I don’t need some strange man reading my personal texts. Second, no, you are wrong, actually. That was my husband. But it’s not as if that’s any of your business anyway.”
He lifted one perfect eyebrow at me. “So, you always leave the house without your wedding ring?”
He’d blindsided me with his question. I’d never had to explain the reason for the bare ring finger on my left hand. I hadn’t worn my wedding ring since finding out about Kelvin’s infidelity. I didn’t see the point. If he didn’t take our commitment seriously, why did I have to?
“Look,” I said, feeling myself getting annoyed again. “Ring or no ring, I’m married, okay.”
We were quiet as the lights dimmed in the theater and the first film trailer began to play. I turned my head to look down at the empty row of seats next to me. I contemplated moving down to one of the other vacant seats farther from him, when he leaned over to whisper, “I’m sorry, Karmen. I didn’t mean to offend you, or be rude. Please don’t judge me based on my poor first impression.”
I looked over at him to see the mock sad face he gave me, and burst out into laughter. “You’re silly. I forgive you,” I told him, and decided to remain seated there. His warm breath against my face as he’d whispered had already disarmed me, and I was enjoying sitting next to him, at least for the duration of the movie.
The only problem was that if someone were to ask me what that movie was about, I don't think I could have told him. My mind was focused on the proximity of the alluring man sitting right next to me.
Jala Summers is the author of books spanning several fiction genres, ranging from General Contemporary Fiction, Romance, Womens Fiction, and Urban Fiction. Her primary desire is to create intriguing and satisfying fiction, featuring complex characters with even more complex stories.