The thing about the past is, it does not always stay there. Things have a way of showing their ugly face no matter how much you may want to move on.
‘Honey, are you okay,’ my husband asks me,’ you look like you have seen a ghost.’
‘Oh… I’m good, ‘I answer back almost in a whisper. My body is still in shock.
‘Okay. As I was saying, this is Henry. I met him as I was wrapping up the building project at my old firm last month.”
There is no response from my side. My eyes are fixated on Henry and the lady standing next to him.
‘It was such a coincidence that he is also looking into starting his new construction company just as I am, ‘my husband continues completely oblivious to my silent nature, ‘we had discussed going into business together.’
Wait, what? My brain feels like it is spinning and my stomach has this gnawing feeling to empty out everything it had for lunch.
‘Well, it was nice meeting you. Richard, we should definitely meet up and talk more about working together. If you will excuse me and my wife, we will take our seats before the show starts.’ Henry finally speaks up.
‘Sure sure, do not let us stop you,’ my husband replies.
Henry and his wife walk away and take their seats at the corner of the left side of the room right next to us.
‘Are you sure you are okay?’ Richard asks holding my hand.
‘Yeah, I just need to rush to the ladies’ room,’ I answer, almost whispering.
‘Okay. Do not stay too long. The show is just about to start.’
I pick up my purse and hurriedly rush to the ladies’ room, find an unoccupied loo, lay the toilet seat down and just sit there. I am a germaphobe but I could care less at this point. It feels like I am having a panic attack. I have never had one but I’m pretty sure this is what one feels like.
How can he look so calm? Does he not remember me? As I struggle to catch my breath and calm myself, my mind flashes back 7 years ago. We had just celebrated our 2nd wedding anniversary with Richard. Stuck in that honeymoon phase of marriage. Half of your friends envy you, the rest cannot stand your puppy-dog love. However, things were not as they seemed. I cared for Richard, I really did. But there was something amiss – I was not in love with him.
As a young teenager, I was the rowdy kind; parties, booze and the like. However, as I grew up, I become a little bit more grounded; reeling in my crazy so to speak. When I met Richard, I had just come from a very nasty breakup. The kind that makes you loathe any XY chromosomes walking around. But after a period of patient pursuit, I gave in. I mean how could I not? He was an amazing guy. He loved me and I fell in love with his love for me. In my head that was enough to marry the guy and for a while it actually was. Fast forward two years later, and the truth started dawning on me.
The Monday after we celebrated our anniversary, I decided to drop by the bar located on the ground floor of the building I worked in. That day was my breaking point. I was not happy with Richard anymore so I was definitely in no hurry to go home. I took a seat at a secluded corner of the bar and ordered a glass of white wine – I did not want to be bothered. As I sipped on my wine slowly engrossed in my thoughts, a guy dressed in blue khaki pants and a white polo shirt walked up to me. I remember how he was dressed because it was freezing cold and he was out here braving the weather like a champ.
‘Hi, I am Henry. Can I join you?’ He asked.
‘I’m married,’ I replied gesturing at my ring.
‘Wow hold up. I am not asking for your hand in marriage. I just want to chat.’ he said laughing.
‘Just to chat my foot,’ I murmured to myself. All these people in the bar and he chose me ‘just to have a chat’ with. I, however, was having way too much of a bad day to care so I just scoffed and he must have taken it as me signalling him to have a seat. For the next couple of minutes, we just stared at each other in silence. I was just about ready to chug down my remaining wine and head home when he asked me a question.
‘Are you happy?’ Henry asked.
It was a peculiar question to ask a stranger. However, when you are in a state of doubt like I was, such questions really make you wonder. If it was any other day, I would have walked away and thought this man was just psycho. But on that day, I just needed someone to talk to.
‘Funny thing is, I do not know if I am,’ I replied.
What followed was a night-long conversation which I really enjoyed. Henry was smart, a great listener with a dint of mystery. I was probably on my third glass of wine when I noticed my phone ringing. Richard was calling.
‘Hey babe, where are you? It is getting a little late.’ a worried Richard asked.
‘I am hanging out with Rose. We were planning her birthday party. Remember I told you about it,’ I do not know why I lied. It was not like I was doing something wrong. But it was out now, I could not take it back.
‘You did not tell me. Probably slipped your mind. Okay, just be safe. I love you,’ he said and hang up the phone.
The guilt was definitely not going to take it easy on me. I felt like a fraud. I hated that I had lied to him. Henry who had been silent during the whole phone conversation finally spoke up.
‘We all tell tiny white lies,’ he said in an effort to make a joke, ‘just have another drink.’
For some stupid reason, I agreed. I figured I could drown my guilt with another glass of wine and then quickly rush home. That glass of wine turned into 2 more. It was relaxing to hang out with Henry. Realizing I was buzzed, I told him that I needed to get home after going to the ladies’ room. He offered to walk me to my car. As I was getting out of the washroom, Henry bashed in the door and pushed me to the wall.
‘What are you do….’ before I could finish my sentence, he kissed me. I could have pushed him away. I should have, but I didn’t. We then walked into one of the washroom cubicles and then and there I committed the worst mistake of my life. I cheated on Richard. The events after were a bit hazy. I just remember rushing to my car, driving home and luckily I found Richard asleep. My guilt then should have probably led me to come clean. I got into my pyjamas and forced myself to sleep.
The next morning, I worriedly called Rose, my best friend and spilt my guts. Her only words ‘Do not say a word to Richard until we talk.’
So we met after work. We had one of those long conversations that only best friends can have. Her advice was as simple as this.
‘Do you really want to lose Richard because of a stupid mistake? I do not think so. So just forgive yourself, move on and love that amazing man God has given you,’ It was weird that she would mention God in such a situation.
I did not want to lose Richard so that is exactly what I did. I decided to focus on being the best wife I could be. So much so that for a while, I convinced myself that my ‘little slip up’ was just a bad dream. It was not until one month later when I found out that I was pregnant that I realized things were not going to be that easy.
Who was the first person I called when I found out I was pregnant? Rose. You would think Richard but seeing the predicament I was in, such simple joys of life were not an option. And knowing Rose, she could come through with a pep talk. That girl could convince you to jump off a cliff. We all need friends like that, sometimes.
‘So from your tone of voice over the phone, I guess you are not sure who the father is right?’ Rose asked as we walked into the coffee shop.
‘I never thought I would ever find myself in this position,’ I really hated how deep the rabbit hole I had gotten.
‘So what do you want to do?’ Rose had never been one to ask the questions. She was always ready with solutions. So if she had nothing to offer today, I had really gotten myself into a tight spot.
The funny thing is, I knew that this was not a matter of choice. I knew what the right thing was I just wanted someone to talk me out of doing it. This was not just about me and my dirty little secret, there was a child in the mix too. But thinking of all I would stand to lose, and how my life would be turned upside down just sent me into emotional turmoil.
‘I am going to tell him. I have to tell him,’ I told Rose.
She just nodded her head. Her silence was deafening. However, I would do the same in her place. the decision had to be mine. So it was settled, I was going to come clean.
That night Richard came home with Pizza, a ‘BTW’ treat for me since he knew I loved it. Sadly, this was one pizza I would not enjoy. We ate as Richard rambled on about how tired he was working at the construction company.
‘I should start my own company,’ Richard said.
‘I have something I need to tell you,’ I interrupted his epiphany.
He turned and stared at me. At that moment as I stared into his eyes, I realized that I was not only quite possibly breaking us apart but I was breaking his heart as well. This news would crush him.
‘ I am pregnant,’ I paused waiting for my mouth to finish the rest of the story.
‘What? When did you find out? I mean why haven’t… Oh, my God, we are having a baby?’ Richard could barely contain his joy.
He stood up, pulled me from my chair and spun me around. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the rest of the story. I mean look at him. So just like that, I changed my mind. I was not going to tell him a thing. I told myself I was doing it for him but looking back, I was doing it more for myself.
So just like any other couple, we started preparing for a baby. The first couple of months were tough. Every time Richard talked about how happy he was to be a father, I felt sick to my stomach. My morning sickness must have been amplified tenfold because of my guilt. Richard even put his plan of quitting his job on hold. However, just like wounds, time healed my guilt-ridden mind. We had ‘our’ beautiful girl, Stella. She was the spitting image of me; a mini-me. Over the years as I watched Richard with Stella, I convinced myself there was no way she was not his. But like I said, the past never stays where it is.
‘Bzz…..bzzz,’ my trip down memory lane is interrupted by my buzzing phone.
‘Hey babe, the show is about to start,’ Richard whispers into his phone.
‘I’m headed there now,’ I whisper back.
After I wash my hands I rush back to my seat. Richard holds my hand and kisses my cheek. As the show starts, I glance at the corner where Henry and his wife are seated. Our eyes meet and we linger for a bit until Richards’s laughter snaps me out of my gaze.
After the show, Richard says he would like to speak to Henry a little more. I tell him I will just go ahead to the car since I am feeling a little tired. As I walk to the car, I call my trusty friend- Rose.
‘Oh this is bad,’ Rose comments.
‘I should just come clean before this goes sideways,’ I tell her in a panic.
‘No, no, wait and see how this plays out. It is a business deal. Those often fall apart. You will probably never see Henry again.’
But we do see him again. For some reason Richard is so impressed with Henry’s business ideas, he invites him and his wife over for Sunday brunch. He tells me about it on Saturday and no reasonable excuse is going to get me out of that brunch date. It was like fate was trying to ruin my life. But I resign myself to my fate and take heed to Rose’s counsel. To stay calm and play nice. Henry probably does not even remember me.
On Sunday, we come home from church to find that the nanny has started to make cooking preparations as I had instructed her. Stella runs to her bedroom to continue playing the game she paused before church. Throughout the entire cooking process, I keep reminding myself that everything is going to be fine.
11.30 a.m, the doorbell rings. Richard rushes to open the door. I take off my apron and walk towards the door too. There they stand, Henry and his ever-smiling wife whose name I am yet to find out.
‘Welcome, please have a seat,’ I beckon them,’ food will be ready in just a minute.
‘Thank you. No need to rush,’ Henry’s wife replies as they take their seats.
A little later on I serve the food.
‘I think Stella should eat from her bedroom. No need to involve her in a grownup talk. I am sure she will love eating in her bedroom today,’ Richard whispers to me as we prepare to take our seats.
I am all for the idea. Not because I think Stella will be bored by the grownups but because having her in the room will only make me feel more tensed up. So the nanny takes Stella her food, Surprisingly, things go really well. We talk, chat finally get to know each other’s names. Generally, have a good time. We even exchange numbers saying that we should hang out more. And for a moment, I am not stressed.
As I start clearing the table, Richard excuses himself to pick up a call and Diana( at least I know her name now) asks to use the washroom. After I direct her to the washroom, I head back to collect the dishes. Henry offers to help out. After a little back and forth, I agree.
‘So Cate is it? I never really got to know your name you know,’ Henry says as we walk to the kitchen.
‘Huh….,’ I try murmuring. I am stunned.
‘Relax. I recognized you the moment I met you. Meeting Richard was purely coincidental. I am not here to ruin your marriage. We all make mistakes,’ Henry says smiling.
I chuckle nervously. At this point, I have a migraine. So he does remember me but he is willing to keep quiet. That’s a good thing, right? Then why don’t I feel good?
‘Oh no, you shouldn’t have,’ Richard says as he walks into the kitchen.
‘It was no hustle. I just wanted to help out,’ Henry replies as he walks out of the kitchen.
We all head back to the sitting room where Diana is busy scrolling through her phone.
‘I would like us to talk business while the ladies talk about..well, whatever it is you ladies spend hours talking about,’ Richard says.
We all laugh a little bit. At that moment in time, my worst nightmare comes true. Stella, being the good little girl we have taught her to be, passes by the sitting room as she walks to take her plate to the kitchen.
‘Oh but since she is here, meet my daughter,’ Richard says signalling Stella to come in and say hi.
Stella rushes to put her plate down and then runs into the sitting room.
‘Her name is Stella and she is 6,’ Richard continues.
An excited Stella stretches her hand out to say hi to the two strangers she has just met.
‘6 years old you say?’ Henry confirms with Richard.
‘Yes, she looks a little tall for her age don’t you think? Probably got those genes from her mother. She was also a fast grower,’ Richard jokes.
My heart sinks. My chest feels so tight that I start breathing through my mouth. I can see where Henry is going with his line of questioning. I can not be having another panic attack. No, not right now. Henry looks at me, his mood has changed. I look away.
After saying hi, our daughter Stella waved goodbye to the visitors and rushed back into her room. Richard asked the nanny to ensure that Stella read her storybooks as was her routine. Richard and Henry went to the study while Diana and I were left having a little chit-chat. Diana did most of the talking. I just listened or pretended to anyway. My mind was elsewhere.
After an hour or so, Henry and Richard left the study room. I fortunately or unfortunately did not get a chance to speak to Henry. Richard was convinced that Henry was the right business partner for him and he made sure he told me after Henry and Diana had left. I tried to hold back my panic the best I could since Rose was uncharacteristically unreachable on the phone when I tried to call her several times frantically. After what felt like a day from hell, Richard and I tucked Stella in and prepared to retire to bed. I received a text, I quickly grabbed my phone thinking it is Rose. It wasn’t her.
‘Look I was willing to forget our little slip-up in the past. But I am only human and I cannot help but wonder, Is Stella mine? If she is not it is fine. I will leave you in peace but if she is, I need to know.’ Henry’s text read.
I decided not to reply. What was I going to say? I barely slept a wink that day. Tossing and turning was the order of the night. Thank God Richard is a heavy sleeper.
The next morning, I could barely concentrate at work. The other text comes in at around lunchtime.
‘Look, I do not want to cause trouble. I just need to know, I have a right to know.’
I was feeling like I was going to have a meltdown. I decided to call Rose.
‘Why haven’t you been answering my calls? Things are bad, really bad,’ I told her as I caught her up on what had been happening.
‘I think you need to come clean,’ she said once I was done talking.
‘Are you serious? Richard will be heartbroken,’ I answered almost in tears.
‘At this point, it is either you spill the beans or Henry will,’
She is not saying what I wanted to hear but she was right. It was clear that I needed to come clean to Richard or Henry would eventually get frustrated and tell him in order to get an answer from me. So just like those many years ago, I set out to tell Richard the truth; Deja Vu. I got home earlier than usual. I asked the nanny to keep Stella in her bedroom and I waited for Richard. The moment Richard walked in, I start talking.
‘We need to talk,’
‘Are we having another baby?’ Richard asked jokingly.
‘You know I care about you and I would never want to hurt you intentionally right?’
Richard’s facial expression changes.
‘A couple of years ago, right before I got pregnant with Stella, I was in a really bad state. I did not know what to do or how to talk to you. And I ended up making the worst mistake of my life.’
‘What are you trying to say?’ Richard asked.
‘I’m sorry Richard…’
‘No… It can’t be. You cannot be saying what I think you are saying,’
‘I am really sorry…’ I burst into tears.
‘Please tell me it’s not tr… Please.’ Richard is furious.
He walked away, tears streaming down his face. Richard hated confrontations especially when he is emotional. All I could think about is the fact that I had not even gotten to the bad part yet and I wanted the earth to open up and swallow me. I sat down on the floor for a couple of minutes in a bid to gather the courage I needed to tell him the whole truth. A couple of minutes later, Richard walked back to where I was in the sitting room.
‘Wait, you said right before you had Stella. Does that mean that there is a chance she is not mine?’ Richard asked.
My silence spoke volumes. Richard had heard enough. He walked away to the study and banged the door behind him. I took a small blanket, cuddled up on the couch and started crying. I had made a mess of things. Another text from Henry comes in but I was too sad to even read it. I asked the nanny to take Richards’s supper into the study. I was sure I was the last face he wants to seed. Just like the previous day I barely got any sleep. I eventually drifted into slumber in the early morning hours. When I finally woke up, I found Richard was gone. I felt so crappy I decided to ask for a day off. I tried calling Richard but to no avail. He ignored all my calls. I decided to just wait until he got back.
In the evening a solemn Richard walked into the house.
‘Hi,’ My attempt at pleasantries fell on deaf ears.
‘Who is he? Do I know him?’
I paused for a while.
‘Henry.’ I answered almost like I was whispering.
‘Wait, Henry the guy we had over? Is this some sick joke? You cheat on me then have your lover do business with me?’
‘No, it is not like that. It happened once and I never saw him again. Your meeting was purely coincidental.’ I jumped in.
‘Well, that explains things huh? You had never planned on me telling me the truth. His return put a kink in your plans and you had to come clean right?’
Richard would not even look at me. He seemed to be repulsed by the mere sight of me.
“Look, Cate. I do not know what will happen to us. The one thing I am sure of is that I am not losing my daughter. Yes, my daughter. No test can ever tell me otherwise. So do whatever you need to do but keep that man away from my daughter.’
‘He doesn’t know whether Stella is his or not,’ I replied.
‘Good. Keep it that way. You owe me that.’ Richard walked away from me.
I have never seen Richard so angry before. I just stood there in shock. Was I really going to do this? Possibly hide Stella from her real father? But Richard was the only father she has ever known. What about Henry? I was really confused. After about 2 hours of just staring into thin air, I made my decision. I picked up my phone and texted Henry.
‘Sorry, it took me this long to reply. I was just afraid Richard would catch me. But I have come clean to him now. However, Stella is not yours.’
I press send. It is not the decision I wanted to make but it was the best decision for my family at that moment.
Now I am sitting in the bedroom, staring at the door and thinking about my future with Richard; if we even have a future. My world is crumbling around me, because of one night with a random stranger. But I made my bed, now I must lie on it.