The time was 9:45.
Adrienne met nothing but empty space when she rolled over that morning.
She could smell coffee and could hear the faint murmur of commercials on a TV. Where was she? This wasn’t her house. The sheets weren’t as soft and the room wasn’t as large and the blankets weren’t as warm. But the memories of the night before trumped everything she knew to be good before. And she couldn’t remember at the moment but something felt just a tiny bit wrong with that.
Jordan woke up to nothing that morning, too.
He fixed his own coffee and listened to the news on the radio on the way into work. His wife was spending the holiday at her mother’s in Pennsylvania, leaving himself, the cat, and the entire state of Maryland to themselves for the weekend. He parked in his normal spot at the office and changed into his scrubs in the nearest bathroom. He hadn’t thought to shave the morning. But she’d said she liked guys with stubble, hadn’t she?
Eva reapplied her lipstick.
For the third time. Her hands shook behind the receptionist's counter even as she recorded appointments and checked insurance cards. There was nothing about her job that was stressful. The clients were kind, the atmosphere was pleasant enough. Tropical fish flitted by in the large glass tanks; kids received stickers for cavity-free checkups. It must be her coworkers, then, that made her uneasy. Just one, actually.
Levi turned off the TV and turned off the Keurig.
The shower was running, so he left the conquest of the night before to her business. He flopped onto the bed and ran his fingers through his shaggy, dark hair absentmindedly. His mind wandered, and he found himself turning his lover’s wedding ring (which had been banished to the floor among last night’s revels) over and over in his palm. She was a consenting adult and no one would ever know besides them. What was the big deal over, anyways?
Adrienne took her time getting dressed; the least amount of talking she had to do, the better. Shame and guilt mixed with passionate memories in the mind and filled her with a nervous energy she hadn’t felt in years.
Jordan finished the cleaning 4 and a half minutes earlier than normal. He wanted to talk to her, the new girl. She was pretty and petite and so not his wife. There was nothing wrong with speaking to someone, he reasoned. There was nothing wrong with being friendly. He’d never cheat.
Eva looked up from her phone exactly twice between appointments. Her fingers hovered over the screen of her phone as she chose directions to swipe on Tinder. She’d just moved to the area four months before but heaven help her if she didn’t bring someone home by Thanksgiving. She could feel a male gaze on her and she was nearly afraid to look. Every man in the office either had a ring or swung the opposite direction sexually. Yet the gaze persisted. Heavy. Constant.
Levi decided he wanted what he wanted; that little things like previous commitments shouldn’t get in the way of what he, what they had. There was no way they would’ve met like that if there wasn’t a reason, a purpose. Some people were star-crossed, and others weren’t, and that was that. Her husband was a fool for not appreciating her the way he should. And that was that.
Adrienne wracked her mind for the last time she’d felt wanted like that. Her husband seemed so, so, so… disconnected. He was always running the other direction. She was no longer the object of his affection. She knew he wasn’t cheating because he never would. But there was something. She couldn’t remember the last time a kiss wasn’t out of habit. She couldn’t recall the feelings that’d so clearly been present in Facebook memories and Timehops of them together. There’d never been a fight or a disagreement that had caused it, per say, just a series of compromises and contentions that had never been truly sourced or satisfied. And, for some reason, she was OK with that. She’d grown tired of fighting for something she didn’t really want anymore. So she’d stopped. And, as cruel as it sounded, she realized that that was how it was. And that was that.
So what to do when an attractive stranger offers to jumpstart your car? You give him your number because what could it hurt?
Jordan thought about texting his wife, he really did. He remembered when they used to text all the time. They’d used to everything all the time. She’d been one of the most fascinating aspects of his life at one point - surprising him by walking across campus just to eat lunch with him every so often, inviting him home for the holidays, playing April Fool’s Day pranks on him and his roommates. She’d been unpredictable and open minded and blissfully young and he loved her for it. But the working world is not college. Debt, both monetary and emotional, can take a toll on a person. He owed her the kind of emotionally support she seemingly effortlessly gave to everyone she knew and he didn’t know how to make good on that promise. Tuition costs and car loans meant changes to the way they lived their married lives, and that meant taking on two full-time jobs. Somewhere in there they’d lost the freedom they’d had as college kids to explore and, without meaning to, that loss had settled deeply within their relationship. And Jordan knew that. He just didn’t know how he knew or what exactly to do about it. So he let things go. And even as he felt the balloons lift away he loosened his grip. Not because he didn’t care, but because he was too scared to ask for balloon-holding instructions.
Eva was nervous. Her social anxiety meant that she was constantly concerned about the way others not only interacted with her, but also how she believed they perceived her. She was constantly caught between over and under estimating other’s actions and words. She was right, she did indeed feel eyes on her. But her initial estimate had been wrong. Instead of the hungry, nearly animalistic gaze she was accustomed to as a young, attractive woman from a big city, this gaze was different. It was kind and deep-searching. The difference between the focus level of a classroom laserpointer (piercing, but taunting in the sense that it’s only on you until something else comes along) and the focus of a rose-colored night light (peaceful, overarching, but also, in a way, subdued) - she could feel it. She looked up, timidly, and saw a pair of friendly brown eyes looking in her general direction. She felt the corners of her mouth pull up in a slight smile and relaxed. Her body knew before her thoughts did he’s OK. She nodded at him slightly and smiled as he sat down across from her. Here we go.
Levi was a hookup kind of person. He believed in love but he also believed in getting what he could while he was still young enough to get it. He was nearly 6 years younger than the woman he’d slept with last night and he could feel something in the back of his mind telling him to tie her down while he could. It was time to start thinking about settling. Levi was attractive. He’d had scores of girlfriends in high school and college before he’d dropped out during junior year for a job. Levi wasn’t dumb - he knew that marriages existed for a reason. But he also believed more strongly in fate than he’d care to admit. He also thought more with certain parts of his body than others sometimes. The woman in his bathroom at the moment had been a combination of those two factors working together. But looking at the picture on her lockscreen (he’d moved from the ring to her phone in his absent minded quest to cover her things with his DNA) he saw two people who’d been bonded by a thing that was maybe slightly stronger than a good 4 hours of sex. He was frustrated in more ways than one and decided that a talk had to happen. He got up and tapped on the bathroom door.
Adrienne dashed away a hot tear in the bathroom. She cried when she felt any deep emotions - happiness, sadness, anger, surprise, fear - and now was no different. The guilt she felt nearly overrode her symptoms. Why did she feel it now? Why not last night before she’d gone through with it? Hell, they’d gone out for a proper date first. This hadn’t been a simple hookup. Not for her, anways. She was a planner, even though her day-to-day schedule wouldn’t have let anyone see that. Adrienne was fiercely independent and knew what she wanted. She seized opportunities whenever possible. When the man who wasn’t her husband had asked her out for drinks, she’d said yes. When he asked to go bowling, she’d said yes. Then she’d ask him out for drinks. Then he’d invited her to dinner. She’d said yes. She’d also shaved and bought a new bra (something she hadn’t done in the past 3 years of her marriage.) She’d known what she wanted then. So why didn't she now? A tap on the door snapped her out of her thoughts. She opened it slowly, wiping away a final tear as she did so.
Jordan got up quickly from the pleasant conversation he’d just had. Something itched at the back of his mind. He’d had a thought. Something his wife had said forever ago. The new girl had been even more beautiful in person than she had looked from behind the frosted glass of the practice. Was it something she’d said? They’d had nearly nothing in common - he’d grown up in the country; she was from the city. He had three brothers and she was an only child. She was a glass-half-full, he was a glass-half-empty. But there was something - a word, a mannerism, something that reminded him of his first love. He didn’t know what, but whatever it was had jolted him out of focus. It wasn’t her looks, he decided. She was petite and fair, almost the polar opposite of his wife’s tall, more curvaceous build. His wife’s hair was usually pulled up, while the woman who’d just nodded at Jordan while excusing herself from the front desk, had a blonde pixie cut that perfectly framed her soft features. He decided the similarity might be more subconscious, but that the reminder of the woman he’d promised himself to was enough to force him to do the right thing. He stepped outside, flipped through his most recent calls, and found “Adrienne.” He sighed, and hit “Talk.”
Eva watched from the receptionist desk as Doctor Milton headed outside. Her heart skipped beats. He was charming, all right. He was incredibly charming. Was it really so wrong to like the taste of his attention? He was a successful dentist, handsome, and he’d managed to make her genuinely laugh in the short amount of time they’d spoken before he’d abruptly gotten up. Normally, her mind would be searching for something she’d done wrong, but instead her brain ran wild with thoughts of the future. Eva’s mind had picked up on the fact that his gloves could be hiding a ring. That maybe this was too good to be true. But another part, surprisingly, didn’t mind. She liked being in the glow of a night light. She liked how he’d opened doors for her over the past few weeks. How he’d handed her her coat when it came time to close the office. How he’d subtly made his presence known for weeks before approaching her. His attention was not an amount she felt she couldn’t handle. She hurriedly wrote down her phone number on the back of an appointment card and slipped it into his coat pocket. If it was meant to be, he’d find it.
Levi’s hand hovered over the door as Adrienne’s phone rang. His “Hey, I was thinking we could talk…” was cut off by Adrienne running past him into the bedroom as she pushed every button on her phone except the green “accept” one. She dashed back to him and pulled him onto the bed. He was surprised, but not unpleasantly, and caressed her as she wanted. She pulled him close, but not before he saw her phone screen go dark. “Hubby” had called. Levi’s mind threw the words “danger” and “caution” before him but his second brain and his devil-may-care personality took over. This was meant to be, wasn’t it?
Adrienne’s ring fell back to the floor, this time rolling under Levi’s bed. Jordan made his way back inside and smiled sadly at Eva, who smiled back broadly.
The time was 11:30.