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Sarah dried her eyes, folded the note and stuffed it in her pocket book. She sat in the solitude of a toilet stall and stared at the floor. The sound of a colleague using an adjacent facility prompted her to regain composure, leave her sanctuary and confront her bedraggled image in the bathroom mirror. She grimaced at the reflection, washed the black streaks from her face, applied a light blush and scurried back to the office floor.
Nothing on the computer screen made sense. Preoccupied with her husband’s infidelity and her unwitting relationship with the other woman exacerbated her sense of betrayal and vulnerability. Unable to cope with her newfound knowledge, she left the office on the pretext of following a lead for an important story, and drove to Laurel Hill County Park.
As she walked along the banks of the Hackensack, she thought about Natasha and John. When she tried to imagine life without them, a sharp stabbing pain forced her to stop and catch her breath. The prospect of losing her husband and daughter put everything in perspective. As she pondered her infidelity, she realised how little Gary meant to her. An ill-conceived fling amounted to nothing compared with the contentment, security and happiness she had found in her three years of marriage. An error of judgement fed by her weakness for attention had compromised her values and fuelled an affair. She had allowed the relationship with her husband to fall into a rut, had been insensitive to his needs and encouraged him to stray. When another woman wanted him, it made the loss more poignant and forced her to appreciate what she had taken for granted.
She sat for a while and scanned the lush meadowlands. People wearing life jackets and yellow helmets swayed and bobbed in harmony as they navigated their kayaks down wide waterways and narrow bends. Exuberant kids, parents in tow, ran back and forth along grassy banks, their innocence exacerbating her sense of loss and loneliness. Couples, hand-in-hand, reminded her of the times John and her had walked here. Once, on a quiet fall evening, she had lured him into making love in an area sheltered only by thick reeds and bulrush. She had always been the more promiscuous of the two.
When she stood and looked across the choppy blue abyss, a thought crossed her mind – but only for a second. Shivering, she strolled back to the car and contemplated her next move. She just couldn’t face her husband tonight. Calling him seemed the logical thing to do. When his voice mail kicked in, she left a message. The possibility of an important story meant she had to pull an out-of-towner at short notice. While she regretted the inconvenience, she knew he would understand. Tempted to tell him she loved him – she reneged. It had been a while, and a phone call didn’t seem like the time to resurrect such an important phrase, let alone the attendant emotion.
She called Nora and asked if she could meet her at the Sheraton Meadowlands where she intended to spend the night.
An hour later, as Sarah sipped a drink in a quiet area of the hotel bar, Nora burst in. She wore a gold-sequenced top, too tight for its contents, a black, thigh hugging skirt and high-heeled shoes that matched the colour of her top. She rushed over and opened her arms.
“Hey, girlfriend, what’s the matter? You been crying, ain’t you?”
She pulled Sarah to her breasts and signalled a bartender. “A gin and tonic please and whatever my friend’s having.” She pushed Sarah back and scrutinised her. “On second thought make that a double, looks like we’re in for a long night.”
When the drinks arrived Sarah settled and relayed her story. Nora shook her head. “My, my, you bitches getting all the action. How come I can’t get me none of that?” She rested her hand on Sarah’s thigh. “I hear you, sis, I hear you. You’re hurting. Your mind’s scrambled; you need some advice. Well here it is, so listen up. You hear me now? Old Nora here . . . she’s had her share of ups and downs.”
Sarah nodded. “I know Nora, I know, that’s why I wanted to talk to you.”
Nora folded her arms. “How you feel about Gary?”
“A fling, nothing more.”
“Okay. It’s you, John and Judy, then.”
Nora ran her finger round the top of her glass. “So Judy got a piece of your man – big deal. You got a piece of somebody else’s man. I reckon that leaves you and your man about even. You want him back?”
Sarah turned. “Of course I want him back.”
“Then you gotta win him back. Hearts and minds, cutie, that’s what it’s all about. You gotta make sure he don’t see nothing in no other woman. Let me ask you something. You been taking good care of your man?”
Sarah leaned back and shook her head. “No.”
“See, there’s your problem right there . . . neglect, honey. Men need attention. Make him feel good. Give him a little action when he needs it. You hear what I’m saying? Dress up. Look good. Once he sees other guys drooling over you he ain’t never gonna want to let you go. Get that cute little tush of yours into some lacy underwear. Flaunt that tight little hiney for your own man. Look at you, sitting there in the dark feeling sorry for yourself. Get out there. Go, win him back.”
Sarah finished her drink and shook her head. “Still doesn’t help to know he and Judy were together.”
“Ain’t no thing, sweetie. Grow up. You think he never slept with another woman before? That’s not how it works. Now, I gotta get going.”
Nora gulped the last of her drink, jumped up and held out her arms. “I’ll expect to see you at work tomorrow. It’s Friday, you got some thinking to do.”
Sarah fell into the embrace. “I know, Nora, I know. Thank you so much. I’ll sleep on it.”
She didn’t sleep. Her mind raced throughout the night. She opened her gift box at work and looked at the red thong Gary had bought her. She paused, looked to his office and nodded. He smiled and turned away.
* * *
Sarah didn’t show for happy hour. When Gary tried to contact her, he had no way of knowing her cell lay in the car where she had left it before deciding to walk along the banks of the Hackensack in the dark.
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