Whenever a friend of mine dropped for a quick visit, it was always a nice surprise. Having Natalie for dinner was no different. She was a lovely woman, always doing her best to make everyone around her happy and comfortable. I thought she was even more beautiful on the inside than she was on the outside, and that was hard to top. With blonde hair, sky-blue eyes, and a smile so bright, she had a way of making people happy to comply with whatever she asked. But tonight, her charming smile didn’t illuminate her face. If I really thought about it, her smile hadn’t been the same for a while. Now I understood why.
“Why would you say that, Nat?” I couldn’t understand what she’d just told me.
“Because it’s true, Kassie.” Her shoulders fell as she exhaled what she believed was true. “I know it’s hard to believe. I couldn’t believe it myself, but I reached the point where there’s no denying it anymore. He’s definitely having an affair.”
She seemed so heartbroken. Her wide eyes glanced around the house as if she were lost, apparently finding it difficult to concentrate on any given point. She slouched as if in defeat, her hair seemed dull pulled back in a painful ponytail, but most of all, her sad smile seemed forced, so out of place on her face. She seemed so lonely sitting on my kitchen counter stool, regardless of whether or not if Josh and I were there with her. When did this happen? Why didn’t I notice before? I quickly moved to her side and held her in a tender hug with no idea what to say. I didn’t want to believe that Andrik could possibly put her through that. He was always so protective of her, looking after her every need. He was hands down the most decent man I’d ever met.
There had to be some sort of mistake.
“Natalie, do you think you could’ve made a mistake?” Josh sat next to us by the kitchen counter. He and I had been about to have one of our in-home dinner dates when Natalie showed up at our place. Naturally, we invited her to join us. What we didn’t count on was the bitter aftertaste her news had left in both our mouths. “Andrik would never cheat on you.”
Natalie and Andrik had always been the most stable couple out of my group of friends. They weren’t the first to get married—that had been Denise and Clay—but they’d been next in line. It had surprised us all a little when Nat decided to marry a man so many years her senior; Andrik was actually her mother’s age. But everything about them had always been so natural, so organic. They seemed to belong to one another from very beginning of their relationship. I wasn’t any more ready to see that change.
“I wish that were true, Josh,” she told him.” But I’m positive that’s what’s happening.” Her voice trembled with emotion, her eyes red, and her hand felt clammy and cold in mine.
“That makes no sense,” Josh insisted. “He’d never do something like that.”
She laughed a little, more as a defense mechanism than humor, and it came out lifeless and sad. Staring at the dark marble of our counter, she traced the intrinsic pattern with her fingers. “How can you be so sure, Josh? You don’t know him that well.”
“I know him enough,” Josh answered with certainty. He leaned over the counter, holding himself up with his arms and hovering too close for Natalie’s comfort. “He’s crazy about you. He would never do something to hurt you.”
“Well, he sure is hurting me right now.” Natalie had never liked confrontation, and Josh’s questioning certainly didn’t seem to help. She held herself in a protective hug, her eyes now fixated on our floor as she avoided eye contact with either one of us.
“Why? How is he hurting you?” Josh insisted, changing his position now to stand right in front of her, his arms crossed before his broad chest. Somehow, I needed to get him to back off. Natalie never could stomach having all her feelings out on display; she preferred suffering in silence. Knowing that, it made sense why she hadn’t mentioned anything before. If she was here now, letting us know, it was because she needed a shoulder to cry on, not someone to make her spill her guts out.
“There’s a lot of things going on, Josh.” Natalie still couldn’t look at him, making an effort to lift her head and meet his gaze only for a second before she turned away again. She sounded exhausted and desperate, her voice pained and weak.
“Josh, babe,” I interrupted as I slowly breached between them, lightly pushing Josh away and wrapping my arm around my friend. “Could you please open another bottle of wine? I think we could use a drink.”
“Kass, I don’t—”
“Well, I think Nat needs a minute,” I said. Then she started crying against me, hiding her face from us. “You could use a breather, too.”
“Sure.” He exhaled as he looked at Natalie behind me, obviously aware now that he’d pushed her to the precipice without realizing it. He scratched the back of his head and took two steps toward the wine cellar, then gently placed his hand on her shoulder and said, “I’m sorry, Nat. I just can’t fucking believe it. This is so messed up.”
I gave her a minute to calm down and compose herself. I needed it, so I was sure she needed it, too; it was heart-shattering to see her this upset. I went around the counter and grabbed some tissue to offer her. It occurred to me to go to the bathroom to grab an actual box of Kleenex, but I didn’t want to leave her alone or for Josh to come back before I did.
He didn’t take long, coming back with a new bottle of wine and some sparkling water just in case. Natalie had mentioned she was going to pick up her daughter from her mother’s after visiting us, and I could only assume he wanted to give her another option.
Ella was almost one year old—a little cherub. It was easy to fall in love with her curiosity and never-ending supply of smiles and laughter. So far, she was a perfect replica of Natalie, and she’d been so wanted. Natalie had dreamed about her even before she married Andrik, and once they started their life together, it became Natalie’s mission to make that daughter in her dream a reality.
I held Natalie in my arms as she silently cried against my chest. Josh offered her some more tissues to dry her eyes, and she accepted them, pulling herself from my arms and grabbing her now full glass of wine. “I probably shouldn’t drink. I won’t be able to drive.”
“I’ll take you home if you’d like,” Josh offered without hesitation.
“That’ll be nice.”
“You could definitely stay here too if you’d rather spend the night with us,” I added. I didn’t know if it was something she needed, but I had to make sure she knew she had other options.
“That just feels like running away.”
“Sometimes, taking a break from reality is exactly what we need,” Josh commented. He stepped up beside her as I sat on the stool next to her, and he put a hand on her shoulder. As soon as his arm wrapped around her, she gave a slow nod of agreement. I didn’t know if it was Josh’s protectiveness making her agree with him, but what I knew for sure was that she’d come to our house for just that kind of break—though Josh and I had had no idea at first. “Sorry about before,” he added.
“I’m sorry for showing up and having a huge meltdown,” Natalie replied as she held my hand.
“You’re always welcome here.” I gave her hand a squeeze to emphasize my point. “Do you want to talk about it?”
“What do you want, Nat?” Josh asked.
“I think… I need another spring roll.”
“Have as many as you like.”
“There’s just no fucking way Andrik’s sleeping around on Nat. No way!” I’d heard Josh say the same thing several different ways on our drive home. He not-so-gently gripped the steering wheel of his Challenger.
“I know. I can’t believe it, either.” I was running out of replies, and I had no idea how to make him feel better, seeing as since I struggled with it myself. Honestly, I was more worried about Natalie than anything else. I’d only seen her that upset one other time, when she told us she couldn’t have children. All her life, she’d wished for the perfect family and somehow, against all odds, became a mother with the best husband in the world. The possibility of Andrik hurting her so deeply and taking away her dream seemed surreal.
“I’m sure it’s some sort of misunderstanding.” Josh couldn’t let it go. “You have to make Nat talk to him. He isn’t an asshole. He worships the ground she walks on. It makes no fucking sense.”
“I’ll check on her tomorrow,” I said. “Tell the rest of the girls about it. Natalie needs us.” I rubbed my pant legs, my hands feeling cold and unpleasantly damp.
“But make sure she talks to her husband.” He gave me a determined stare before looking back at the road. “Andrik isn’t that kind of man. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ed had a fling on the side, but not Andrik. Never him.”
“What makes you so sure?” His words surprised me. Edward was his best friend, and Josh had no problem picturing him cheating on his wife. Why couldn’t Andrik cheat on Nat? He’d cheated before; in fact, he’d cheated on his previous wife with Nat, and that was how they fell in love. He’d been married before he broke his wedding vows and ultimately left his family to begin a new one with my friend. I didn’t like it, but I couldn’t discard the possibility that he’d do it again.
“There’s just something about the way he looks at her. It’s so obvious how much he loves her. He’s still in love with her. I’m just sure.” Josh switched gears angrily, and I was afraid he’d wreck the clutch and not even notice. He’d regret that later. “It’s like when you told me you thought Dzed was cheating on Babah.”
“Shut the hell up!” What did my grandparents have to do with anything?
“Exactly! Not fucking believable.” He shook his index finger at the windshield before slamming his hand bitterly back down on the wheel.
“Why do you have to use my grandparents as an example?”
“I couldn’t use any of our parents.” He shrugged. Josh’s mother had raised him on her own, and my parents had died when I was five. While our families weren’t the best illustration, I still held onto the greatest memories of my parents as a couple. “I’m sorry, babe,” he added. “I didn’t mean to upset you. I’m so fucking shocked.”
“I couldn’t tell.” I chuckled softly and rolled my eyes. “And I feel the same way. I just don’t understand why you feel so strongly about this.”
“I really like them. They’ve been kind of an example to me. I look at them, and that’s the kind of life I want with you.” Josh moved his hand from the wheel to take mine. “Of course, it’s nice that there’s not such a big age gap between us.” He winked at me, then let out a long, slow breath. “I guess I also feel really protective of Nat. She’s too sweet. I don’t want her to hurt, especially since I consider her our personal cupid. We might not be together if it wasn’t for her.”
It surprised me that he felt the same way as I did about my friend’s support of our relationship. Natalie had cheered us on from the very beginning. She’d always made little remarks about how Josh was the perfect man for me, even when I was in total denial. She’d been his champion whenever we were all in the same room. When I turned the other way, she kept pushing him toward me, and she never gave up. Even if she asked us not to interfere, I owed her whatever help I could give to save her marriage.
We’d left late to pick up Ella and take her and Natalie home, and when we finally got back to our house, I was exhausted. What I really needed was a long bath before bed, and I’d work on figuring out how to help Natalie—without hurting her even more—in the morning. She’d torture herself endlessly if she waited too long to talk to Andrik about what was going on.
Josh parked in front the house, not bothering with the garage. As he turned off the engine, I let myself out and went to unlock the front door. Once I’d stepped inside the wooden entryway, I felt his hands on my waist, and he turned me around to face him, pressing me against the wall with his body. He pressed his lips against mine, working his magic and leaving me sore. Eager hands roamed my body until they found their way to my neck. Josh held my face tenderly, making me feel precious, needed. Then the kisses that had quickly made me forget about my friend’s situation abruptly stopped. Josh’s forehead rested against mine, both of us breathing heavily.
“I can see the gears turning in your head,” he said. “I know you’re trying to figure out a way to help Natalie. And while I’m nothing but supportive, I want you to remember something.” He pulled back a little, his deep gray eyes gazing intently into mine. “I love you, Kass. You’re everything to me.”
“I love you, too.”
“I just need you to know that. Whatever’s going on with Natalie and Andrik is upsetting and sad, and I really hope it isn’t true. The only thing I know for sure is how much I love you. How much I want you.”
Anything I could have said would have just repeated what he’d already told me. Instead of telling him how much I loved him back, I showed him the best way I knew how.
I jumped into his arms and wrapped my legs firmly around his waist, my lips seeking his to continue their previous assault. I’d always found it easier to communicate with my body what I couldn’t voice. I kissed his neck and could almost feel his eyes roll to the back of his head in pleasure. It gave him time to say, “I know it’s totally selfish, but I don’t want to worry about our friends tonight.”
I pulled my lips away from the soft skin of his neck, where I’d felt his heartbeat pulsing, and leaned back to look at him. “Take me upstairs,” I said, a little breathless. “I want to show you exactly how I feel about you.”
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