Small Cuts (14) Elaine

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Now here is Elaine again:

When Oliver pulled me against him I completely lost my composure. Part of it was nerves, part of it was my loneliness, but the rest of it was Oliver’s warmth, his strength and his transparent feelings for me. I found myself relishing the feel of his arms around me, his gentleness and the sweet words of comfort he murmured in my ear. “It’s ok, sweetheart. I’m right here. Everything’s going to be alright.” In that moment, I desperately wanted to believe him.

With a deep shuddering breath, I pulled away. “I’m sorry, Oliver. I can’t. This is all just so…” I didn’t finish, unable to find the right words. What was it, exactly? Scary? Wrong? Overwhelming? Any one of those words fit, but didn’t cover the whole of it. Beneath each of those feelings lay the undeniable truth. I was here because Oliver wanted me. I needed someone to want me, to love me the way I always hoped James would.

“All so…?” Oliver prodded. I averted my eyes but he stepped forward and held me by the shoulders. “Talk to me, Lainey.” He paused, lowering his head. “Or maybe don’t say anything at all.”

He moved in to kiss me but I braced my hands against his chest, keeping him at a distance. The pain and disappointment showed in his eyes. I shook my head to clear it. “Don’t. Don’t do this, Oliver.”

He nodded, shoved his hands in his pockets and stared at the ground. “I think I fell for you the moment I laid eyes on you,” he said softly. “All this time waiting. Wanting you. Falling in love with you. It’s been torture.”

“But … but James,” I stammered and Oliver stiffened.

“James is a fool,” he said sharply. “He doesn’t deserve you, Elaine. He doesn’t make you happy.”

He was right. James didn’t make me happy, but I still wanted him to. I wanted my husband to love me the way he did when we first met. What had gone wrong? I felt the sting of tears again and looked toward the ceiling to keep them from spilling over. “And Genevieve? What about Gen, Oliver?”

He sighed heavily and lifted a hand, let it drop. “Oh, Elaine… if only we’d met each other first.” His voice gruff and full of emotion, he said, “I love you, Elaine.” He paused, swallowing. “I’m laying it all on the line, right now. I love you and I want to be with you. I haven’t figured out what the hell to do about it, but there it is.”

My stomach knotted and my already racing heart squeezed in my chest. A thousand thoughts ran through my head in quick succession. Life with Oliver. For a moment I allowed myself the fantasy —imagining the way he would love me, cherish me. I pushed a fist against my sternum to steady my breathing. I thought of James’ reaction. Would he be stoic, logical, always the lawyer, thinking out the details of a separation? Or would he fight for me, beg me to stay, profess his undying love for me? Perhaps that was more the fantasy. Nevertheless…

“Elaine.” Oliver gripped me by the shoulders. “We don’t have to decide anything right now. I just want you to tell me… Do you feel the same way? Or have I just made a huge mistake?”

Nevertheless, I thought. It was the fantasy I chose to believe. I have to tell Oliver… He’s my friend and I owe him the truth.

“Lainey?” Oliver said, breaking my reverie. “Say something.”

I nodded and started to speak, when at the same time, both our phones began to ring.

Small Cuts (11) Oliver

To find links to all parts of this story, please visit the Small Cuts Page. Here is what happens to Oliver:

What a weird morning. I rolled over to find Gen’s side of the bed empty and cold. I never heard her get up but the smell of coffee wafting from the kitchen meant she must have been up for a while. I threw off the covers and padded barefoot downstairs. The open concept layout of the house gave me a view of the kitchen from the bottom of the stairs. Gen stood at the sink, staring out the window above it, at something across the street. I walked as far the center island and stopped, waiting for her to turn around. She continued to stare straight ahead.  Finally, I softly cleared my throat. “Gen,” I said. No response. Nothing.

I tried again. “Hey, Gen. What are you looking at?”

Still she didn’t answer. Well… I guess last night’s good humor was gone and she wasn’t speaking to me. Whatever. I poured a mug of coffee from the full pot —Gen hadn’t taken one yet— and brought it back upstairs with me. If she was in a mood, there was no sense in sticking around. After showering, shaving and getting dressed, I returned to the kitchen and set my empty mug in the dishwasher. Gen was still at the window.

“Gen, what the hell are you staring at?” I asked, more annoyed than curious. Without breaking her gaze, she murmured something I couldn’t make out. “What did you say?” I asked. An almost imperceptible shrug of the shoulders was her only response. I moved to stand behind her, lightly resting a hand on her arm. She flinched slightly and I let it drop. So that was how it was going to be. I followed her line of sight and saw a trio of vultures circling in the field behind the house across the street. “Afraid they’re waiting for you?” I joked. Even this didn’t elicit a response. With a heavy sigh, I turned away, grabbed my keys from the entryway table and went to my car.

It was too early to meet Elaine so I drove around for a while. Without thinking, I passed James’ and Elaine’s house just in time to see James backing out of his driveway. I sped up and turned the corner at end of the block, hoping he didn’t recognize the car. I needed to get a grip. This was a stupid and totally unnecessary risk. As I left the neighborhood, I had already started formulating excuses for why I might have been on the street. I couldn’t think of a single one that made any sense.

After leaving the car in the hotel’s parking garage, I still had time to spare so I walked around the park from which the hotel took its name. My nerves were rattled and I knew no matter what I did, they wouldn’t settle until I saw Elaine. I had rehearsed what I was going to say to her over and over again. I only hoped that first, this wouldn’t be a complete shock to her —it couldn’t be, right?— and second that she felt the same way. The question was what the hell did we do next? 

I circled back to the hotel and entered through the front doors. The lobby had several seating areas with a view of the elevators. I sat on one of the sofas and tried to read the copy of today’s paper left on the cocktail table. I couldn’t concentrate and I couldn’t sit still. I slowly paced the hotel lobby, peeked in the restaurant and wound my way back to my original position. Lights and sirens drew my attention to the front window and I missed seeing Elaine get off the elevator. She cleared her throat behind me and said, “Hey.” I turned to find her standing just a few feet away. She looked gorgeous. I just wanted to take her in my arms and never let go. 

“I’m so happy to see you,” I said, moving in for a hug. But before I could reach her, she stepped back, a look of panic in her eyes. My heart squeezed in my chest as I tried not to let my smile falter. I awkwardly dropped my hands to my sides. “Everything ok?” I asked, dreading the answer.

My casual retreat seemed to calm her somewhat. Nodding quickly, she managed a nervous smile. “Yes, yes. Fine. I’m fine.”

I gestured toward the restaurant entrance. “Shall we?”

She nodded again so I offered to let her lead the way. I nearly collided with her when she abruptly stopped. Turning to face me, she said, “Ollie, I’m not really hungry.”

I was so close, not touching her was impossible. I held her by the shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “What do you want to do?”

“Oh, Oliver,” she said as a tear trailed down her cheek. And I couldn’t help myself, I led her to a quiet corner of the lobby, gathered her into my arms and held her as she quietly cried. 

Small Cuts (7) Oliver Again #fiction

Read the opening thoughts of each of them: James, Elaine, Oliver and Genevieve. Then James again, Elaine continues and now Oliver again…

It happens this way in dreams: Once in a while in the midst of the dense fog, there is a brief moment of clarity. A parting of the mist where for an instant the terrain of the road ahead is visible and navigable. With confidence, you forge ahead until once again the clouds descend and the view is obscured. And not only is the way now hidden but the lay of the land forgotten, rendering you immobile and impotent to act.

This was the state of my mind now and really, it had been for the past few weeks, months —maybe even a year. The obstacles between Gen and me seemed insurmountable. How do two married people on opposite sides of the issue of starting a family manage to come to terms? How do you possibly compromise on that? It’s not like I could do this without her… Even if I offered to be a stay-at-home-dad, it would still be her body carrying our child, she —the vessel bringing another being into the horror that was this world we lived in.

And now, with the added variable of Elaine in the mix, I was no longer certain I wanted to fix the issues between my wife and myself. I felt like throwing everything into the fire and starting over. And yet, and yet… Without knowing for sure if Elaine shared my feelings —which to be honest were intensely strong but vague in scope— I didn’t dare make a move that could destroy not one, but two marriages, and a best friendship that had lasted decades.

Ironically, Genevieve had seemed happy on the way home from the restaurant. She actually talked animatedly about her conversation with James. Apparently, James had decided to read his way through some classic literature and she had been delighted to give him advice.

I should be jealous, I thought to myself. I was positive Elaine wouldn’t be babbling away about the things we had talked about tonight. James would have been jealous. Wouldn’t he? Or was he really that oblivious to his wife’s beauty and my attention to her? Of course the devilish solution to the whole problem whirled around in my head: James with Gen, me with Elaine. I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time such a thing happened. It just seemed so … unsavory didn’t quite cover it. Could new love be founded on the bones of betrayal? Because if nothing else, I was sure of my love for Elaine. If she loved me too, was it fair to deny it? This where the fog descended and I became most disoriented. Somewhere ahead was a cliff or a gradual slope, the step I chose could be disastrous or easy to transverse. I couldn’t act rashly.

Later that evening, as I brushed my teeth, I stared at myself in the bathroom mirror. Which man stared back at me from the glass? The husband or the adulterer? A man bound for happiness or misery, love or loathing, and which of those men was which?

I set my toothbrush into the ceramic mug beside Gen’s and flipped the light off on my way out. The bedroom was dark, save for the reading light on my bedside table. Gen was already sleeping when I came into the bedroom. She looked so beautiful, so delicate with her porcelain skin and long, slender limbs curled beneath the heavy duvet. Her blonde mane fanned out over her pillow like a tawny silk shawl in the wind. She was facing away from me, so I touched one soft strand, wound it around my finger then let it drop, as I climbed in beside her. In the dark, after the lamp was extinguished, I rolled onto my back and stared at the ceiling. Only then did I become aware that her rhythmic breathing sounded forced and I wondered if her sleep was feigned. I wondered if we would both lay awake tonight thinking about the future.

Tomorrow, my fate would be decided.

Header illustration: Man In the Mirror ~ Meg Sorick, 2018