We found our way into Clyde's Martini Bar. Kyle held my hand and led me to the back corner. Clyde's is a tiny, hole-in-the-wall bar in New Brunswick- a college town in central New Jersey. The only thing they make is martinis and the only way they serve them is in doubles. I had four.
We were out celebrating New Year 's Eve and that with six months to spare we had finished paying for our wedding. We got dressed up in our best and braved the college bars for a night on the town. The cocktails tasted terrible to me; alcohol flavored with alcohol, but after the first few sips I hardly cared. I could feel the alcohol in my toes. My inhibitions and walls were coming down. Through the haze, the alcohol was making me want to tell Kyle everything I'd ever done wrong, just to cleanse my soul- drunken confession.
I kept pointing out pretty girls in the bar and asking Kyle what he thought of them. The drunker I got, the more consumed with the guilt I felt. The more consumed I felt, the more I needed validation or something. I needed to see if Kyle had completely shut off the idea that other women were attractive. He was on to me.
"Why do you keep asking me about other women?" he seemed amused, but his curiosity was definitely peaked.
"Cuz I a little drunka little little bitAnd I'm nervousyou know with the wedding so close..," I was stammering because I'd had too many martinis. "Do you stillyou know? Look at girls? Aren't these feelings supposed to go away?"
"Oh my sweet, drunk baby!" he sang. "Don't worry baby. You were a passionate, flirty person when I met you. I really don't expect those feelings to just die because I put a ring on your finger."
God, he's so great. I don't deserve him. I hugged him hard. There were tears in my eyes; luckily he just thought that I was just being over-emotional because I'm drunk.
"Let's hit the next bar," I said after hugging him.
"Are you sure? It's close to midnight, don't you want to see the ball drop?" he asked.
"I want to dance," I say. Then I kissed him more passionately than I have in a long time. He lifted a few grams of guilt away; and in the process saved my good time.
We walked four very cold blocks- I was stumbling and asking everyone who walked by for a cigarette. We finally settled on Harvest Moon, which is a microbrewery with a dance floor on the upper level. After we got our drinks, we made our way to the large staircase in the middle of the room. On our way up the stairs we were laughing and kissing and tripping over our own feet, to the sound of the B52'sthen my eyes fell on him. Benjamin. Benjamin was coming downstairs and his gaze was fixed on me.
I froze. My head started spinning and my heart jumped into my throat. Once our eyes locked everything around me started moving in slow motion. Kyle was still moving up the stairs- he moved ahead three while I fell back two. I knew only a few seconds had passed but it seemed like an eternity. Kyle finally noticed that I'd stopped moving and turned around to investigate.
"Who's he?" he asked over the music.
I was still frozen. I was too drunk and stunned to react. I hadn't set up for this emotionally. I just never thought it could happen- my fianc and my lover in the same room. I had to get out of there. I had to get Kyle out of there. I had to make sure that Benjamin didn't speak to me.
"Let's go somewhere else, okay? It's too crowded in here," I fumbled. I took his hand and led him back down the stairs.
"Do you know that guy?" Kyle asked a little more sternly.
"Who? Oh, no it was just so crowded in there. Let's just go to Woody's, it'll be quieter and I'm so drunk!" I'm praying that Kyle will accept my explanation. He's has a few drinks, too. Maybe I can get out of this. I was trying so hard to pull myself together.
"Yeah, sure," he paused one more time and scanned the room before following me. "You sure you're okay, baby?"
"I'm just really drunk, let's go to Woody's- we can still see the ball drop," I cooed. Quickly I lead Kyle down the stairs, with out even acknowledging Benjamin. I knew I'd pay for that later, but I had to take care of Kyle right now. It was only two blocks to Woody's. Once we were there I could relax.
When we got to the bar I immediately ordered two shots of Sambuca and downed them. There that was better, I felt a little calmer. I got up and stuffed the jukebox full of dollars so that I could play music I loved. As my songs started I smiled and reached for Kyle. I let Benjamin fall out of my drunken head and just focused on my fianc. Kissing and dancing proved and effective diversion; Kyle didn't ask anymore questions about what had happened at Harvest Moon. We watched the ball drop on a small television in the corner; at 12:02 I called my mom to wish her a Happy New Year, at 12:04 we called a taxi to take us to my apartment.
When we got home, Kyle went to bed and I fell into the bathroom. I was nauseous and still upset about earlier. First I started to cry, and then I stared to vomit. I didn't stop doing either for several hours. It was all so upsetting for me. I almost got caught tonight, but more upsetting than that; I had done something that I could be caught for.
It started out a workplace flirtation, a nice way to pass eight hours in the mall. Occasionally we'd go for drinks after work. Then we started talking on the phone and the computer. Somewhere along the way it just got the better of me. It was like having a boyfriend, everything was new and exciting. It was like I was a different person when I was with Benjamin. I liked that person; she was a free spirit and had no worries. No big wedding to plan and pay for, no grown up responsibilities. We'd hang out at his dorm and go to the movies. Being with him made me feel like a kid again. Suddenly I was in love with two men and I didn't know how to get out of it with no one getting hurt. Alcohol was only partly to blame for the violent reaction I was having. Mostly it was guilt. How did I let this happen?
Benjamin and Kyle's compartments had collided- if only for a drunken moment. They had touched and now I had to deal with that. I had ignored it for too long, but now Kyle had a face to wonder about and Benjamin had a face to envy. The secret identities I'd created for them (and for me when I was with them) were shattered. The cowl had been lifted, they were no longer strangers. There'd always be the chance of that moment of recollection if they ever saw each other again. I stayed in the bathroom until around three thirty.
Around half past four I heard it.
Someone was throwing something at my bedroom window. My head was screaming. I looked over at Kyle to make sure the noise hadn't disturbed him. It hadn't yet. My heart was in my throat, how could he not have heard that? I got up to investigate.
I got out of bed and tip toed over to the window. There, standing on the sidewalk was Benjamin; forming another snowball- which I quickly deduced was the sound that woke me. I started to open the window, but it creaked loudly after only an inch. Enough of a noise to make Benji look up and Kyle roll over simultaneously. I jumped and pointed frantically toward the front door, at the same time closing the window and making sure that none of this had woken Kyle up. Thank God for heavy sleepers!
What was Benjamin doing here? I ran out to the living room and flung the door open .I propped it open, so it wouldn't lock and I walked towards the dark parking area. Benji came around the building and saw me leaning on his car.
"I saw you!" he hissed. He looked like he was going to scream, but I pushed my finger against my lips to deter him.
"I know," I whispered.
"I saw his face!" Benjamin glared at me.
"Shhhhplease, Benji. I know that you're upset, but he's here. And if he sees you here after seeing you at the bar" I pleaded.
"He's here?" Benjamin cried. "Why is he here?"
"Because he's my fianc, Benji. And I got really sick from drinking too muchyou have to go now," I didn't want to yell at him, but I did needed to get him out of here.
"Oh, isn't he just the perfect fucking guyno wonder you are marrying him. I saw you with him. I saw youYou love him, don't you?" Benji looked wounded. And drunk. I didn't want to hurt him anymore.
I slid down the wall and started to cry. I never meant for it to go this far. I didn't want to hurt anyone. I nodded slowly, not wanting to meet his gaze.
"Do you love me?" he whispered.
I looked up at him and wiped the tears from my cheeks. I nodded softly.
"I can't," he stammered. "I can picture his facehis face kissing your face"
"Sweetie, I know, I do. I never meant for any of this to happen- but you can't be here," I pleaded quietly. "He can't see you here."
"You have to choose," he said evenly. "It's all different now, he has a face and a name and I'm tired of sharing you." He got into his car without another word. I watched while he drove away.
Somehow I felt that if I didn't look away he would know how I felt. That I really did love him; that we had just met at the wrong time or something. I sat on the stoop, cold in my pajamas and cried. I cried because I let this happen, it went against everything I believed in. I cried for the loss of Benji. I cried for the loss of who I was when I was with Benji. I cried for betraying Kyle. I cried because I didn't know what to do. I sat there for almost an hour before getting up and going back into bed
I crept back into bed after calming down a little bit. Kyle hadn't moved. As I slid under the covers I felt nauseated. I had an uneasy
"That was him, wasn't it?"
Kyle hadn't moved but he wasn't asleep, "The guy at the bar, that was him outside, wasn't it?"
I just lay there. What could I say? Make up a lie? Some reasonable story for why a man I freaked out about seeing was standing outside of my apartment now. And why I've been out of bed for two hours. NO. He deserved better than that. He deserved better than me lying there silently. But I didn't know what to say or do.
"Who was he?" he rolled so he was facing the ceiling. I mimicked his posture, but couldn't speak. Tears were streaming down my face and my throat felt parched and closed.
"WHO IS HE?" He said sternly. Neither of us moved.
"Benjamin," I croaked in a small voice.
"His name is Benjamin, he used to work with me at the store," I continued.
"What was he doing here tonight?" Kyle asked stiffly.
"Hehe came to see me," I said. Duh. "Kyle, honey, I think that we need to talk"
He breathed heavily for a minute or two. "Yes, we certainly do," he said, but we still just laid there. My mind was racing, he breathed heavily.
"Are you two seeing each other?" he asked our ceiling fan.
I thought this was a strange way to ask, wasn't it? I mean, I've never had an affair- I wouldn't know how he was supposed to ask me.
"Are you two seeing each other?" He asked again, more pointedly.
"Um, hmph," was the only sound I could muster. I shook my head. There was no way to make this sound acceptable or excusable so I just said "I guess," in a very tiny voice.
Kyle punched the bed, threw off the blankets and threw on his clothes. He didn't ask any other questions and I didn't offer any other explanation. What could I say? Nothing would make this better for him, so I let him dress in silence. Right before he left he turned to me, "We will talk about this laterI need time to absorbI just want to know why Can you tell me why.?"
"I never meant" I stammered.
"STOP!" he yelled. "I asked you why, I don't want to hear all that other bullshit," he reached for the doorknob. He looked like he might say something else, but shook his head instead and left.
I couldn't sleep after he left. I just paced and smoked cigarettes. And cried. I cried like a wounded animal. I cried like a frightened child. I didn't know who I could call. To go to anyone for advice would mean that I would have to admit what I had done. I hadn't told anyone. I have never been the type who could keep a secret, but I didn't want anyone's opinion of me to change. I was so disappointed in myself for cheating; I didn't want to disappoint anyone else. How could I let this happen? I just sobbed and sobbed.
I started to think about both guys. Kyle was thirty-two, classically handsome and the funniest person I'd ever met. Kyle was my best friend; he just hadn't felt like that lately. With all of the wedding plans and working overtime to pay for the wedding, we hadn't been spending very much time together. And we were snapping at each other more because of the added stress. But still, he makes sure to compliment me every day, always telling me I look pretty or that something I said was funny. He and I can just talk for hours and never run out of things to say. And he asked me to marry him, flaws and all. He must feel so betrayed, so angry. I felt an indescribable guilt; it actually hurt my stomach and made me nauseous to think that I was capable of hurting somebody so much.
Benjamin was great, too. He had this guy-in-the band look. He had dark hair and dark eyes and he dressed stylishly. He was a little younger than Kyle and I, a little funkier. I was a little funkier when I was with him. We worked together at a video shop in the mall. I was the manager of the book department; he was working his way through college in the DVD department. We'd talk about books, movies, music, drugs. We'd go on cigarette breaks together, hug and snuggle when customers pissed us off. How could something that started out so innocently have blown up in my face?
My cell phone started blinking and vibrating across the coffee table. The display screen said 'ben-G'. I haven't figured out what to say to him, or how I'm going to go back to work in a few days.
"Hello, Benji," I sighed. I needed to get some sleep if I was going to function at all.
"Is he still there?" he asked.
"No, he left right after you did," I replied flatly. I wasn't trying to give him an attitude, just to get him off the phone quickly.
"Sorry," he was unconvincing with his apology. He sounded just as pissed, but less drunk at this point, sleepier.
"You don't have to say that," I yawn. "Look, I haven't slept yet and I have to figure out a few things. I don't know when Kyle is coming back or if he is. Can you just give me a few days to figure things out?"
"I guess I can, you know I love you, Jennifer," he whispered.
"You can't love me, I'm engaged," I retorted. Hearing that he loved me cut through my heart like a hot knife. I had to convince him that he didn't love me; that this was not the right situation for either of us. Every noise I heard made me jump; I didn't want Kyle walking in on me talking to Benjamin. "Look, I just need a few days to figure things out, okay? I don't want to hurt anyone, I have to think."
"People are already hurt, Jen. Just think about how much fun we have together. I really want to be with you," I wished he would stop talking, I was so confused already.
I agreed to call him on Monday afternoon, he had class until three but we could hang out after, he said. I resumed pacing for about fifteen minutes, but then exhaustion grabbed me and I fell asleep on the sofa. I dreamed that no one had found out anything, that my secret was still safe. I dreamed that I managed to get out of this without anyone getting hurt. When I did wake up, it took a few minutes to realize what had happened; my subconscious had me so convinced that I had dreamt the whole thing. I rubbed my eyes and realized that indeed, I would have to fix this mess I had created. And it was not going to be easy.
Three hours later, Kyle came back to discuss things. His eyes were puffy and red and he looked like he hadn't slept. I offered him coffee, which he accepted, so we moved to the kitchen to talk.
"I want you to know that I hate myself right now," I say softly.
"That makes two of us," he glares at me while I fish filters out of the cupboard.
"I know. It was never that I didn't love youI just got caught up inin..,"I tried
He slammed his hand on the table, cutting me off. As he sat, I waited to see if he wanted me to speak or if he was going to speak. It was hard to tell, he mostly looked angry. He just sat staring at me until the coffee was finished brewing.
I fixed the coffee and sat across from him. Still, neither one of us had spoken. I didn't dare, I just sipped my coffee and waited.
"It's over, Jennifer, the wedding is off," he said flatly, and then started to cry softly.
I also cried. There was nothing I could say. I had just fucked up and I hurt the most important person to me. The one person I would have done anything to keep from being hurt, and I hurt him myself. "I am so sorry," I whispered. "But we don't have to break up; we could go to counseling or just start over. Please don't leave me!"
"I can't. I just can't. Look, I know you aren't a bad person," he continued to cry. His shoulders were shaking up and down as he spoke, like he just couldn't control how hard he was crying. I sat across from him not believing that I could inflict such hurt on another person. "But you can't fix this. You betrayed me, and you didn't have a reason to. You just thought you could get away with it, or got carried away- whatever. But I don't want to be with someone who hurt me that way. I can't look at you the same way. There's nothing you can do to make me forget that this happened. I can't just pretend, every time you work late, every time you hang out with your friends, I'll wonder. I don't want to live like that. Please, this is the way it has to be. I just need you to leave me alone for a while."
With that he got up and left. He never even touched the coffee. It was cut and dry; I hurt him and I violated our relationship. It was over. And I had no one but myself to blame.
Obviously I wasn't ready to get married, that's why I had strayed in the first place. That didn't mean I didn't love Kyle or that what we had wasn't real. But my relationship with Benjamin was never an honest one, either. We had a lot of fun for the past few months, but my relationship with him had been almost an escape; an escape from planning the wedding, from investigating the problems Kyle and I were having and from being a grown up. I had idealized him because there was nothing difficult about our situation. The more I thought about it, the more I couldn't believe that I had let this innocent flirtation turn into the life changing event it had become.
I spent the rest of the day crying, sleeping, and smoking. I thought about how I could win Kyle back. I thought about the possibility of trying to start anew with Benji. More about Kyle, though if I'm being honest. I felt such overwhelming regret for hurting him. I felt so black and depressed that we had grown so far apart that I could have allowed myself to cheat on him. And I mourned; I mourned the loss of my wedding, the loss of my fianc, the loss of my best friend and the loss of what our life together might have been
The next day I met Benjamin at the movies. He seemed to think it was odd that I asked him to meet me in a place where we couldn't speak, but that was the way I needed it. When I reached for his hand, he knew. I didn't have to say anything; he knew that he hadn't been chosen. He squeezed my hand tightly and we glanced at each other. We both knew it was over, but for the next two hours we would just pretend that none of this had happened and we were still us. For the last time, we were still happy.
The film ended, the credits rolled and the theatre emptied out, but neither of us moved. I looked over at Benji. He had tears in his eyes. He squeezed my hand and got up- I didn't follow him. It was over.
"If you ever change your mind," he started.
I just nodded and wiped the tears from my eyes. I sat for a few moments and cried as he walked out alone. Then after a few minutes I walked out alone, too.
It hadn't happened the way I had hoped, I had wanted to get out of this without anyone getting hurt. Instead I hurt all of us and both of the men in my life were gone. I'd made a huge mistake and my whole life as I knew it was going to be changing. I had to figure out who I was alone, it had been so long I barely remembered. S