Book Five – The Night Before
A knock at the door. It was either the UPS guy or Matthew. The UPS guy was en route with a shipment of wine, and I hoped with everything in me that it was him. I was in the mood for a big, jammy red, something warm and delicious to accompany the lab reports I was grading. But no. When I opened the door and saw Matthew standing there, shivering without his coat, his hair a mess, eyes pleading, I wanted to slam the thing in his face.
“No. Whatever it is, no.”
I shouldn’t even be talking to him without my attorney. Briefly, I thought about going back to get my phone so I could record the conversation. With Matthew, recording the relationship had become more important than the relationship itself. And I hated how that was true.
“It’s just for one night.”
So it was Earl. I glanced at the other side of the duplex, which we used to rent out to graduate students and AirBnb guests, but there was no sign of my ex-father-in-law.
“I can’t leave him on his own—”
“So stay with him.”
“I’ve been with him every day and night.” Matthew ran a hand through his hair. It was getting longer, less manicured than he’d always kept it during our marriage, and the rows from his fingers made the top stick up in greasy spikes. I wondered when the last time was that he’d showered. “I’m begging you. It’s an emergency.”
An emergency? He wasn’t working. He didn’t have any obligations that I knew of, but what did I really know about Matthew’s day to day life? The days had turned into weeks and months since I’d told him I wanted a divorce and made him move into the other side of the duplex. We weren’t in each other’s lives anymore and if I was being honest with myself, I might never have fully been in Matthew’s life. He hadn’t told me about the gambling. He’d lied about sleeping with a student. The man I thought I’d loved, the partner I thought I’d had, was nothing but a pretty face with a good line.
What was this emergency? Was there a poker table calling his name? A woman waiting for him somewhere? The bitterness of those questions choked in my throat. I didn’t want to be this person. The ex-wife, with all her sneers and suspicions. I refused to be her, but I also refused to put up with lies anymore. Which was why, after a few seconds of tense deliberation, I decided not to ask. I didn’t want to know about Matthew’s “emergency.” I wasn’t interested in his drama anymore, and I didn’t have to be.
Matthew must have sensed my resolve. He had a sixth sense for people, when to push and when to wait. It should have made him a better gambler.
“I think he misses you.”
Matthew lifted his hands in surrender. “I’m being honest. You know he won’t talk to me. I’m the failure he’s always expected me to be, but he listens for your car in the morning and at night. He waits to make sure you get into the house okay. And he’s depressed. He’s less every day without mom.”
“Guilt is a new tactic for you.”
“Fuck, Eve, that’s not what I’m trying to do. Everything is falling apart. Everything.” His voice rose suddenly, almost hysterically. “And I just need a few hours. One night to focus and I can pull this together. I know I can. Please.”
I looked at my watch. “It’s already night.”
“I’ll be back first thing in the morning. Eight at the latest. I promise I won’t ask again after this.”
His eyes pleaded, meeting mine, and I saw honesty in them, the sincerity I’d always assumed I had until Matthew’s lies began to surface. But this felt different. He was raw, desperate, and tinged with a self-loathing that had no spin. I believed that he had an emergency. I believed that he had no one else in his life to turn to. And I also believed that Earl missed me. Because I missed him, too. It had been weeks since he stayed over and that weekend of company had been wonderful. A distraction for both of us from the wreck of our lives. I wanted to see Earl, to see for myself how he was recovering from his stroke, and help him if I could. Him, not Matthew.
The relief almost wilted him. The breath he’d been holding seeped out of his chest and he shivered in the freezing air. “Eight o’clock. I’ll be here. Thank you.”
There was fervent gratitude and sadness in the words, and I felt the uncomfortable prick of tears behind my eyes. Why now? Why did he have to be sincere and thankful now, and look at me like I was the prize he’d lost? He damn well had lost me, and there was too much distance between the man standing in front of me and the man he’d pretended to be. I turned away, not wanting to even look at it.
“Don’t be late tomorrow.”
He got his dad and wheeled him over, along with all his medications and a backpack stuffed with cheap sweats, before patting him awkwardly on the shoulder and leaving.
It was the last time I saw Matthew Moore.