1 year earlier
Camille Holmes sat in the eerie silence of her room, still reeling from what she’d discovered about Nick. The only sound came from the fan humming a lulling cadence above her, making her suddenly feel exhausted. She looked up from its mockingly repetitive shadows at her feet to the photo taken on their honeymoon in Bora Bora. Nick hated it. His left arm was completely blurred and his face shined with sunburn. Camille’s eyes were squeezed shut as she hunched over in a burst of laughter. There were plenty of other pictures, better ones, ones that truly embodied the promise their marriage started out with. The couple in that photo were strangers now, to herself and to one another.
Camille had adored this particular picture. They decided on a deep sea fishing package during their week-long stay and while Nick was heaving over the side of the boat for the fourth time, Camille caught a massive blue marlin. The captain helped her to reel it in but she was so intimidated by its size that Nick had to stumble over to hold it for the photo. The captain counted down and just as he got to “1”, the marlin wriggled and slapped his tail right across Camille’s face, throwing her into hysterics while Nick struggled to regain his balance. In the end, the fish was set free while they lay on the ground unable to compose themselves for so long that Camille’s entire body ached and even Nick overcame his initial embarrassment and fell into the silliness with her. He used to appreciate her ability to soften him if only in private. Over time, however, she found herself changing as well. She was becoming rigid and insecure. Gone was the carefree woman she once was. Even her mother had grown distant and she sensed this pleased Nick. The more secluded she became, the more engrossed in his world, the better.
She hadn’t really looked at this picture in a while. It represented a time in her life that was too painful to revisit. And in losing herself in that memory, she’d almost forgotten it. The cool little metal thumb drive in her hand. She’d never seen it before and everything within her cautioned not to look at its contents. However, another, more commanding voice in her head demanded it. Something about this tiny object that had never existed before two days ago ate at her curiosity until she couldn’t bear ignoring it any longer. But, we all know what happened to that curious little kitty.
She shakily slipped it into her laptop while Nick was at the country club knowing she had at least four hours to herself. Her pulse quickened. The little hairs on the back of her neck stood on end like little soldiers keeping watch. She knew he wasn’t going to be home for a while but the idea of heading her own little investigation was thrilling and oddly satisfying. She hadn’t felt so alert and alive like that in months. Not since the affair. She could think of nothing else since she found it, and for what? What was she hoping to uncover? Did she secretly wish this held something incriminating about Nick? Surely, he wouldn’t be so reckless. It would be completely out of character. Nick is a prideful man, a careful man. Everything he did was with purpose and wholly intentional. Although, he had been acting strange over the last several months. But her therapist told her to be patient about that. Reminded them to be patient with one another if their marriage would survive.
Or maybe her instincts were completely off. Maybe this was some sort of secret vacation he’d been planning and hid it here for her so she wouldn’t find out? The idea wasn’t too far-fetched, he had done it countless times before. She also felt an unsettled sensation the second she found it deep in the drawer where he kept his gym clothes. She’d never been the one to go looking for such things. She’d never once checked his phone messages, voicemails, emails. She trusted him. She had no other choice.
Nick started off a perfectly decent husband but sometimes relationships aren’t strong enough to withstand certain things. Devastatingly painful things. The first miscarriage was the first time she consciously felt a piece of herself fall away. It had left her broken on the floor of their lavish marble bathroom in Chicago. Nick was to be accepting an award of which she couldn’t recall. “We need to leave in ten!” He hollered from the other side of the door. She couldn’t respond. Her lavender evening gown splayed across the tiles, dampened with the bright red coming from her own body. She watched helplessly as the intrusive red seeped through the buttery smooth fabric, climbing, grabbing, taking it from her. Not wanting to steal away from his night, she tried to clean it up. Return the marble back to its spotless white and grey whimsical swirl. But she just managed to smear it, spread it around so that the grout, the plush rug still wet from his shower, the box of complimentary tissues, all stained with her failure. Only when Nick forced the door open did she realize she was wiping the blood with her $10,000 dress. She hadn’t even noticed him come in until he spoke. “Oh, babe…”
She looked up at her husband. His towering body which was beaming with pride just moments before. He’d even worked their growing family into his speech. He liked an audience and couldn’t wait to double down on his good fortune. Camille sat, listless on the toilet seat as Nick called in a favor and had a new dress delivered within minutes. He helped her into it and delicately blotted her tears, padding the makeup sponge across the apple of her swollen cheeks. At the time, she saw it as heroic. In later months, she noticed a tiny seed of hatred replaced the child in her belly, filling the empty space in her womb. It grew and spread its roots, digging deep within her. She despised him for still expecting her to attend when all she wanted to do was curl into the billowy bedding and mourn the loss of their first child who she had already begun to knit a blanket for.
“These things happen. We will try again. But, we are running late…” He smiled somberly at her reflection as she stared into the full-length mirror before they left the hotel room. “You look beautiful.” He added. The fact that the underlying tone of his voice translated to “We mustn’t be late!” wasn’t lost on her. The rest of the night he was right by her side, treating her like a porcelain doll that might shatter at any moment. Protecting her from waiters, helping her dodge the long-winded wives and drunk husbands ready to “accidentally” grab her ass. The whole performance had given her hope. It wasn’t until the fifth miscarriage that she’d finally allowed herself to see the regret he felt by marrying her. It was as if all the loss had morphed into a tangible being that followed her always. He couldn’t look at her without seeing it.
He tried to remain optimistic after each doctor visit but supported her when she’d asked to stop trying. They swore never to become bitter with one another. Eventually, Nick moved past his unspoken disappointment and had thrown himself into work. Their love-making was increasingly violent. For all the empathy he presented outwardly, in bed he was angry, primal, someone else entirely. Passion was a thing of the past, at least in the way she understood it. He’d stopped planning the elaborate birthday surprises. He’d forgotten their anniversary and started spending more time at the gym than at home when he wasn’t working.
Now, several years and countless failed cycles of IVF later, she stood alone at yet another event. Waiting in the wings until he’d had his fill of scotch and small talk. She looked around the room and before she saw him, she heard him. Everyone always heard Nick. His voice carried and that’s what attracted her to him in the first place. He was strong in every sense of the word and, in the beginning, their life was a modern fairy tale. Camel rides through the warm sandy winds across the desert. Hiking through the massive redwoods of California. Zip lining through the rainforest. She could still feel the humid air like a mask, moistening her skin. But her Porsche was no consolation for being ignored. She became an old toy he no longer enjoyed playing with. If she couldn’t have children, what use was she to him anymore?
She absently reached for her glass and brushed hands with someone. His best friend and coworker Jamie, who had been watching her, watching Nick across the room. She blushed and apologized. Something in that touch, in the way his cheeks flushed when she smiled, electrified her. Reigniting something she’d been forcing back for a while now. Such an insignificant gesture to anyone else in that sterile banquet hall. Jamie’s hand lingered against her fingers just a little too long. She blinked at his ring, hers, then how he smiled at her, a bit bashfully. How long had she had these feelings toward him? This man who was like a brother to Nick, they’d known each other long before she came along. Yet, for however familiar Jamie seemed, he and Nick had grown into such different men. Somehow Jamie managed to adapt to life in a more comfortable and casual way without becoming hardened like Nick. Jamie was refreshing. He was also her best friend’s husband. However, Kate couldn’t make it that night. She was home with Sadie, their teenager who had come down with strep. So, there she stood with Jamie, talking about Sadie’s puss-filled tonsils and how Nick wanted to go in on a boat together for joint family trips. Both working to go through the proper motions of polite conversation, ignoring the elephant.
She envied Kate with such intensity that she had a difficult time enjoying their friendship. She and Jamie may not have had the level of wealth that Camille and Nick did, but they had everything else. They had kids. However, something had to be missing because the way Jamie was looking at her now across that tiny cocktail table was much like the stolen glances many times before. Neighborly bar-be-ques, Sadie’s soccer games, or when they played volleyball in the pool and her top had come loose, drooping just enough to tease when Kate noticed and adjusted it like any good friend would. Only this time, an agreement was made between the fine lines of their conversation, a silent contract signed that would change everything. Camille bit her bottom lip and lifted her glass to take a sip. Jamie softly cleared his throat, leaned forward and was about to speak when suddenly, she felt an arm around her waist, jolting her back into reality and sending a rush of heat down her spine. “Nick!”
He hadn’t noticed a thing. Not then or the weeks after when she’d make excuses to run to the grocery store when they clearly didn’t need anything. Or the weekends away to visit her friend in Florida when she had no plane ticket to account for the trip. He didn’t notice until it was right in his face, in their home, when he’d come back early to find Jamie standing between her legs, kissing her breasts while she moaned with pleasure, straddled on the rumbling dryer. The hole in the wall was repaired. Yes. But, she could still make out the edges where the fresh texturing had met the old one.
Nick had broken almost everything he could in that room and had it all fixed and back in place within hours after Jamie left without so much as one punch thrown his way. She waited for the scuffle, waited for a blow herself, but Nick had only taken out his rage on the Tide bottle that leaked blue, sticky liquid across the basket full of clean clothes. He’d yanked down the solid wood shelving, leaving only splinters and chipped paint behind. His muscles tensed and relaxed with each motion. His skin glowing red with sweat and fury, his eyes glazed over. Jamie stood behind him, waiting for whatever came next, shameful and speechless. Camille shivered beside him, sure that this was nothing compared to what Nick would be bringing down on them. She knew all too well that he was angrier for being made a fool of than at their betrayal of friendship and marriage vows. When he was finished, he took a moment to catch his breath, stood up straighter and turned to look at them.
“Nobody better find out about this. Fucking END it.” He growled, jabbing his finger at them. His lips curled around his veneers as he huffed between them and disappeared into his office.
They followed behind him like children, fearful of how he would react by their ignoring his need to be alone. But as they appeared in the doorway, he looked up anew. Businessman Nick was here and ready to strike a deal. Camille and Jamie apologized. Swore their tryst was over. They both feared Nick too much to risk being caught again. And after several hours of discussion, they each agreed not to tell Kate. Even Nick found no benefit in involving her. This irked Camille, she knew this kindness was working for him in some way and couldn’t put her finger on how exactly. The whole ordeal had only been a few months ago but seemed like a lifetime now.
She flipped the flash drive over and over again in her hand. Swallowed the urge to break their pact and call Kate. After all, its contents were far more damaging than the affair. Camille’s heart panged for her friend for the first time since it all started. But this… the things on this were beyond comprehension. Why would he have saved it to begin with? How did she not know? Did he think he could keep this from her forever? Camille would never get those answers. Because as she twirled that tiny silver pandora’s box of secrets in her hand, she couldn’t feel the eyes that were watching her from the doorway. Waiting. When she finally did look up, there was little time to react. She felt the blood rush out of her face, filling her ankles like cement. Weighing her to the ground. Once the initial shock washed over, she recognized the face and was taken aback that it was standing in her doorway. She felt the deepest sadness as their eyes met. Those eyes that she’s seen hundreds of times before seemed so foreign and cold now. They terrified her. They knew what she’d learned and were here to ensure it didn’t leave the walls of this home. Camille wanted to speak, but the words wouldn’t come. How did she know in this instant, because of her stupid curiosity, that it was over? All of it. However, she didn’t have the whole, life flash before her eyes montage. There was light. Then there was dark.
She was gone.