One Perfect Lie Page 41

Mindy focused her attention on Paul’s heavy tread on the steps. One footfall then the other, each beat like the tick of a clock, signaling that she was running out of time on a decision. She hadn’t decided what to do about the mysterious jewelry charge. She could let it go or she could confront him—but she couldn’t be accusatory, she had to use I-words, and not point her finger, literally. Their ground rules had been laid down by their marriage counselor, though Mindy couldn’t believe that her husband was threatened by her manicured fingernail.

Mindy knew that when she forgave Paul, she was letting him off the hook, but she didn’t want him thinking that he was off the hook forever. She had consulted a divorce lawyer, unbeknownst to him even to this day, and the lawyer had told her about the “one free bite” rule, which was the law in Pennsylvania with respect to dog bites—every dog gets one free bite before the owner is liable. Well, her dog had had his free bite, and after the next one, he was getting neutered.

Mindy tried to make a decision. To confront or not to confront? The footfalls disappeared, which meant that Paul was crossing the carpeted hallway, then he materialized in the doorway, looking tired, though she didn’t know if that was an act.

“Hey honey, sorry I’m late,” Paul said, flashing her a tired smile, though he barely met her eye.

“It’s okay.” Mindy’s instant impression was he’s hiding something. He was tall, a trim six-footer with dark hair going prematurely gray, and it looked slightly greasy, since he had a nervous habit of raking his hair. His dark brown eyes were small, set far apart, and slightly hooded for a forty-five-year-old, with deep crows’-feet. Mindy always thought he had the weight of the world on his shoulders, being an oncology surgeon, but now she was wondering where he had been. She asked him, lightly, “What kept you?”

“The last case took forever. My feet are killing me.”

“You poor thing. What was it?”

“The case?” Paul slid out of his suit jacket, which he tossed on the cushioned bench at the foot of the bed. “Lawson. I think I told you about him. He’ll make it, Thank God.”

“Great. I don’t remember you mentioning a Lawson. What was the problem?”

“Honey, you know I don’t like to talk about my cases. Let me leave it at the hospital, please.” Paul came around the bed and gave her a quick peck on the cheek.

“Mm, okay.” Mindy received his kiss like a happy wife, though she sniffed him like a hound dog. Or maybe a cadaver dog. Was their marriage dead or alive? Was it buried under some rocks, waiting to be rescued?

“How was your day?” Paul kicked off his shoes.

“We had some bad news.”

“What?” Paul slid out of his tie and threw it on top of his suit, then began to unbutton his shirt around his growing paunch, which pleased Mindy more than it should have. She hated that Paul did nothing to stay thin, which was metabolically unfair. Plus he would’ve been dieting if he were having another affair. Last time, he’d started going to a gym and dyeing his hair, a Hubby Renaissance that would’ve tipped off any wife but her.

“You know Mr. Y, Evan’s Language Arts teacher? He committed suicide.”

“Whoa.” Paul frowned. “That’s terrible. How?”

“I know, isn’t it? He hung himself.” Mindy felt terrible about Mr. Y’s death, but she was happy to have some actual news to tell Paul. Ever since the affair, she’d worried that she was boring. She tried to think of stories that happened to her during the day, just to have something to tell him. Sometimes she even made them up. See, I’m not just a housewife. I’m fascinating!

“Wait. Language Arts is English, right?”

“Right.”

“Why don’t they call it that?”

“Progress?” Mindy answered, as Paul slid out of his pants, hopping around in his socks to stay on balance. She bit her tongue not to tell him to sit down when he took his pants off, because he always said she sounded like his mother. She wondered if every man married his mother, then hated his wife for being his mother, or if he didn’t marry his mother, then he would eventually act like such a child that he would turn his wife into his mother.

“Be right back.” Paul stripped to his undershirt and boxers, then went into the bathroom and closed the door behind him, which he never did. Hmmm.

Mindy eyed her phone without seeing a word. She realized she was tallying the clues about whether Paul was having another affair, like an Infidelity Ledger. In the No Affair column he was gaining weight, and in the Divorce column was home late, lame explanation, oddly tired, shut the bathroom door, and mysterious jewelry charge. Mindy heard him washing his face, buzzing his teeth clean, flushing the toilet, then he left the bathroom and was back in the bedroom.

“God, I’m beat,” Paul said, which Mindy knew was marital code for I don’t want to have sex. He walked around the bed, climbed in, and pulled up the covers with a grunt. Of satisfaction? Of pain? Why hadn’t she noticed before that he made so many noises?

“Me, too,” Mindy said, which communicated, I don’t want to have sex either, so don’t sweat it, I won’t hold this one against you—unless you don’t want to have sex because you just had sex with someone else. In which case, I’ve got a divorce lawyer who’s dying to take half of your money, and I’m keeping Evan and the house. And I’m melting your Porsche for scrap metal.

“How was your day?”

“Fine, but it’s so sad about Mr. Y. The school is having grief counselors on Monday, and Evan was upset about it, too. He really liked Mr. Y. He spent most of the day in his room.”

“Bastard!”

“Who? Evan?”

“No, the teacher.” Paul inched down in bed. “What kind of teacher does that? He’s not thinking about the kids.”

“Well, I think people who commit suicide are in despair. They don’t see a way out.”

“Yes, there is one. Work through your problems like an adult.”

“It’s not that easy—”

“Of course it is. Mindy, you’re too soft.”

Mindy cringed. She heard everything he said as a criticism of her weight, ever since he told the therapist he wanted her to lose thirty pounds. She had to stop the drinking, that’s what did it, the sugar. Then the thought struck her. She was too soft, and Paul was too hard.

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