Trish pushed her hair to the side to show off her sparkling diamond earrings. “Alvin just got these for me. I didn’t even have to drop a hint.”
Heather leaned forward for a better look. “Oh Trish, they’re beautiful. And LuAnn, did I see you drive up in a new Lexus today?”
“Yes. It’s a belated birthday present. We had to send the first one back. Jeffrey surprised me, but it just wasn’t the color I wanted.”
Heather put on her biggest smile. “Well, cheers ladies. To all your new gifts.”
Trish beamed back. “Thanks, Heather. Now that John’s with the company, I’m sure you’ll be benefiting soon too.”
Heather sighed and shifted almost imperceptibly in her seat, then raised her glass of Prosecco. “Here’s hoping so.”
Heather allowed her friends to pay for her lunch again and then rounded the corner to her Kia. Slipping into the driver’s seat, she felt the sun-drenched pleather sticking to her thighs and closed her eyes to imagine the feel of cool leather cradling her skin. She drove home and pulled into the driveway just as her husband, John, returned home from work.
“Early day, hon?” Heather pecked him on the cheek and linked arms with him to walk up the front steps.
“Not really. I brought some work home. I was too distracted at the office.” John threw his suit jacket onto the sofa, kicked off his shoes, and headed for the kitchen. After grabbing a beer, he straightened up to find Heather leaning on the other side of the refrigerator door. He jumped back, gave a little chuckle, and looked up to see Heather giving him a toothy grin. “What’s up? Did you have a good day?”
“Well, I had lunch with the girls today. Did you know the Janley’s got a new car? That’s the second one in two years. You know, my car is almost five years old. I was thinking I could really use a new one, you know, for safety purposes. Mine is definitely getting a little quirky. It’s also one of the oldest cars in the neighborhood, and with you working for the Company now, we need to keep up appearances, don’t you think?”
John sighed and set his beer on the counter with a thwack. “Look, Heather, we talked about this when I got the job. I know I didn’t get the starting pay we hoped for, but if I work hard, in time I’ll get a promotion. You just have to be patient.”
Heather’s hands flew to her hips and she leaned into John, narrowing her eyes. “Patient? Look around, John. We have the smallest house and the oldest cars in the neighborhood. It’s an embarrassment. I think you need to go in there tomorrow and demand a raise. You’re even bringing work home. Do you think your boss, Alvin, is working at home right now? He’s probably sitting in the hot tub with a gin and tonic.”
John exhaled through his teeth. “Calm down. You’re being ridiculous. I’ll ask for a raise when I think it’s time to ask for a raise.” John snatched his beer off the counter, grabbed a second one from the fridge, and headed upstairs to his office, slamming the door behind him.
Heather stayed in bed the next morning to avoid a confrontation with John. She knew Alvin’s schedule from Trish, so that afternoon Heather pretended to run into Alvin, and then joined him for a cocktail at the Club.
“I love the beautiful earrings you got for Trish.” Heather leaned toward Alvin, giving him a glimpse of her cleavage. At the same time, she caught the hem of her dress with her sleeve and rode it up her leg with a practiced swoop. “You’re such a thoughtful, generous man.”
Alvin leaned back and diverted his eyes. “Look, Heather, I think you’re an attractive woman, and I’m aware that on your husband’s salary he’s not able to provide you with the things you want, but I’m happy in my marriage, and Trish is your friend.”
Heather’s mouth flew open and she quickly smoothed out her dress and sat up straight, her face flashing shades of pink. “Oh.. Alvin! I thought we were just enjoying a drink, and I guess I’ve had a little too much, but I didn’t mean anything.” She leaned forward and grabbed his hand, glanced around and whispered, “Please don’t say anything to Trish, or to John, about this misunderstanding.”
Alvin retracted his hand and rose, turning an eye toward Heather. “I know exactly what this was, Heather, and honestly, I’m embarrassed for you.” Alvin left, leaving Heather mortified. She waited a few minutes, stood up, pulled back her shoulders, and left without looking at anyone in the room.
Heather arrived home, sat down on the sofa, buried her face in her hands, and cried. What was she doing? She had humiliated herself with her friend’s husband. Why didn’t things ever work out for her? It just wasn’t fair that her friends had everything. Didn’t she deserve that too? If only John was more ambitious. She would just have to talk to John again about getting that raise.
Heather heard John on the stairs, stood, and did her best to straighten herself up and wipe her eyes.
“Oh John, you’re home.” John descended the stairs and looked at her from the landing with lips drawn tight and eyes narrowed, but didn’t say a word.
“John? Is something wrong?” John hesitated, and then took giant steps toward Heather, stopping short of knocking her over.
“What were you doing having drinks with Alvin today?”
“What? Who told you that? I mean… what about it?” Heather saw John’s face turn dark red, and suddenly her breathing stopped. John had never been a violent man, but she had never seen him this angry. Oh no, Alvin must have told him she was flirting with him. She stepped back and crossed her arms tightly in front of her.
“Whatever you heard, it was really no big deal. We just ran into each other and had a drink. That’s all.”
John’s arms went rigid as he held back his clenched fists. “Well, Heather, that innocent drink just got me fired.”
“What? You’re fired? What are we going to do?” Heather dared look into John’s face, her eyes wide, temporarily forgetting her fear and embarrassment.
John took a step back and shook his head. “ What I’m going to do is sell this ridiculous house and move to a real neighborhood. Somewhere I’ll be able to live well on a lot less money.”
“Move? Are you being serious, John? We finally made it to the best zip code. I‘m not going anywhere, so if you’re leaving, you’d better find some way to keep paying for this house too.”
“That’s ridiculous. Heather. Do you want us both to be out on the street? You know there’s no way I could afford that. You’re going to have to decide what you’re going to do, but whatever it is, it won’t be with me.” John left by the front door, and with a click, Heather was alone.
Heather moved trance-like through the house, looking at all the nice things they’d bought over the past few years. Each purchase creating another small rift in her relationship; each high price tag had the added cost of conflict in her marriage. She stopped in front of their wedding photo, remembering how happy she’d once been just to be with John. With a sharp inhale, she turned and ran outside after John, who was just shutting the car door.
“John please wait. I love you. Please don’t leave. We can start over. Work things out. Let’s try.”
John started the car and looked up at Heather with tired eyes. “No Heather. I just don’t trust you anymore. You’re not the same person I married, and I don’t think I’ll ever be as important to you as my money. I hope you find what you’re looking for.”
John drove away, leaving Heather with her things.