Jessie’s Girl

But Jessie is oblivious. He’s talking about something work-related, but I can’t focus on the words. I see Matt nodding, giving Jessie his winning smile, paying attention enough to not arouse suspicion, but I know without looking that his thoughts are in the same place as mine. Our spark, so dim for so long, crackles and spits to life in a way we both are only too aware of. Abruptly, I turn for the table, the rigor mortis of the smile on my face nothing compared to what’s going inside of my head.

My heart cracks just a little and I wonder if anyone can hear it.

Matt gives me another intimate smile as he and Jessie make their way over to the table, and I almost choke back a laugh as I find myself once again seated between my sun and moon. Matt has taken his spot to my left; Jessie sits across from him and it’s then that I feel trapped. Trapped between the man I settled for and the man who’d been my “what if” for almost two decades. What if I’d chosen wrong? What if I had been meant for another life? I pressed fingernails into the palm of my hand and took a sip of water before fastening a smile back on my face.

“So. Are you surprised?” Jessie is the first to speak. He nods his head towards Matt and smirks. He is talking to me, but it takes a second for me to catch on. Jessie isn’t irritated, just confused as I try to recover. I run over my silence with a sip of water.

 “Of course I am,” I say as I make eye contact with my husband, setting my glass back down. My cheeks ache with the weight of my smile. He looks relieved, but it doesn’t deter his enthusiasm.

“I was almost surprised myself when Matt called out of the blue. When he said he was going to be here for a few more days, I thought, ‘What better surprise for Jess?’ I have to say that you’ve turned out to be a handsome old son of a bitch.” Jessie laughs at the end of his sentence, but Matt just smiles. He hasn’t said a word yet.

The two of them look expectantly at me. It’s an old routine. The go between. I’m supposed to be saying something. Anything. I place my napkin in my lap, avoiding Matt’s gaze. It feels like something is caught in my throat so I take another sip of water.

“So how are Sierra and Charlie? He must be, what, nine years old now?” There have been holiday cards, once a year, updates that didn’t sit right with the picture of what I have envisioned for him. A wife and child. A son. As if he would be any different than any other man. The bitterness in my mouth tastes a bit like jealousy.

“They’re well,” Matt says. He has finally used words. His voice is as deep and throaty as I remember it being. “Charlie is a brilliant kid. I’m lucky.” There’s a little stab of pain in my sternum that’s hard to ignore. “But don’t let me bore you with family stuff. What have the two of you been doing? Catch me up on the last decade or two.”

Jessie doesn’t need any more prompting as he takes over where Matt left off, his voice rolling over me in its lullaby cadence until I look at Matt and feel the twitching beginning all over again. And it’s like that through our appetizers, through to our main course, where try as I might, I can’t keep from looking at Matt and wondering what he’s thinking, wondering how he can sit there and go through the motions. I’m finding it hard to concentrate on anything other than those dimples, the smattering of grey around his temples, the way he runs his finger down the side of his wine glass when he pauses to respond to one of Jessie’s questions. I’m not going to be able to take much more.

I take another bite of my duck, the fibrous flesh greasy and lukewarm, a texture that is doing nothing to alleviate the nausea I already feel. I’ve hardly touched my dinner, but no one seems to notice. Taking a deep breath, I reach for my wine and empty what’s left into my mouth, the fruity tang overwhelming the gamey taste. Counting backwards from ten, I take another deep breath and glance at my watch. It’s early still. Time has become a torture that I cannot escape yet. I need for this to end before I do something that I’ll never be able to take back.

And that’s when I know the devil is listening. He arrives with the simple chime of a cellphone.

Jessie’s work phone is ringing.

I stop pushing sautéed green beans around on my plate and see several emotions pass across his face: geniality, confusion, annoyance, and then resignation. My stomach plummets. I already know what the news is going to be.

Jessie shakes his head and sighs, giving me one of his tight smiles. He’s afraid I’m going to be disappointed and that my birthday is ruined. He’s partially right.

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