Read Lying With Strangers Online
Authors: James Grippando
IT WAS MONDAY AND IT WAS ALMOST LUNCHTIME. KEVIN WAS SEATED
alone in a booth in the back of Murphy’s Pub, waiting and burning up stress as he chomped on the ice from his soda.
Only one other booth was occupied as yet, a man and woman holding hands and eyeing each other. They were too well dressed and the food here was too lousy for them to be lunching at Murphy’s for any reason other than a secret affair. The chances of anyone in their circle happening upon them here were nil, which of course was the whole point. Cheaters always thought they were so clever.
“Hi,” said Sandra.
He managed a strained smile as she slid into the booth.
When Sandra had sent the e-mail asking him to meet her for lunch at Murphy’s, Kevin’s entire focus had been on whether he should go and what he should say to her if he did. He didn’t give the venue much thought. But now that he’d arrived and could see what the place was like, he just felt like a dirty cheater.
“I’m surprised you showed up,” she said.
“I thought we should talk.”
“How is Peyton?”
It was the decent thing to ask, but under the circumstances it struck Kevin as awkward at best. “Pretty good, actually.”
“How are you?”
“I’m hanging in there.”
Sandra touched her hair, a little sign of nervousness. “Did you tell her where you were when the call came?”
“No,” he said firmly.
“Are you going to?”
Kevin drew a breath, then let it out. “Sandra, that’s what I came to talk about.”
“You’re not going to tell her, are you?”
“I want to be honest with you. Peyton and I—”
“You’ve reconciled,” she said, her eyes closing momentarily, as if to absorb the blow. “I knew it.”
“She’s my wife, Sandra.”
“And what about us?”
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you. There can’t be an ‘us.’”
“You should have told me that before you took me to bed.”
She wasn’t yelling, but she had been loud enough for the waitress to overhear. This wasn’t the time to debate who had taken whom to bed. “Sandra, come on, please.”
“What did you expect from me? You want me to be happy to hear that all the time and effort I’ve put into you has just ended with one night of drunken sex?”
“What time and effort? We’re friends, and on that one night things just got out of hand.”
“I have feelings for you. Isn’t that obvious?”
He paused, his well-rehearsed words suddenly not flowing as easily as he had hoped. “Like I said, I want to be honest with you. My original plan was to come here today and tell you that Peyton and I will be patching things up. But I don’t think that’s the case anymore.”
“Are you trying to make me crazy? You can’t keep changing your mind.”
“It’s not a matter of me changing my mind. It’s just…something happened on the way over here that makes me think that I may have already lost Peyton.”
“You mean she figured us out on her own?”
“No. Someone left a red rose for Peyton on our doorstep this morning. No card, no note.”
“Did you ask her about it?”
“If I had, she could have turned the tables on me and I would have ended up telling her about us.”
She made a face. “There always has to be a winner and loser with you, doesn’t there? You’re so competitive with Peyton it’s crazy.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Every time you talk about her, it comes out. She has a more rewarding job than you, she went to a better school than you, she has more successful friends than you. You have one of those marriages that should come with a scorecard.”
“Is it? Maybe it actually explains your interest in me. You went out looking for something you were dead sure she didn’t have—a lover on the side. You’d finally have the edge. Or so you thought. Now this mysterious rose shows up, and you can’t stand to admit she beat you at your own game.”
“Look, I understand that you’re angry.”
“I’m not angry. I’m hurt. I’m disappointed. Because I know what you’re thinking: If Sandra were ten years younger, maybe things would be different.”
“That’s not what I’m thinking.”
“I know you,” she said. “I just wish you could see that if I
Peyton’s age, I’d probably be playing the same stupid games that the two of you waste so much energy playing. That night in Providence, I thought maybe you finally understood that. But I was wrong. And I’m tired of this. So go back home and go the full sixteen rounds with Peyton. You two can compete and compete till you’re tired of competing anymore. And when one of you is left standing, call me. Maybe we can see where we are.”
“Please don’t be like this. The two of us still have to work together.”
“Like you said, there is no ‘us.’ At least not until you’re ready to leave Peyton behind. Really ready.”
“I’m sorry that’s the way you see it. Because you’re dead wrong about me and Peyton.”
“I don’t compete with her.”
She smiled flatly and shook her head. “Funny. I thought you were going to say you don’t love her.”
Their eyes met, but he suddenly realized just how far apart he and Sandra were.
“Could you please just leave,” she said.
He wanted to say something to make her feel better, but things were too confused with Peyton to be controlled by Sandra’s sensibilities. He slid out of the booth in silence, grabbed his coat, and started toward the door.
On his way out he passed that couple in the booth—the other cheaters—and suddenly thought of Peyton and Mr. Rose trading glances at some bar, caressing each other’s hands, moving on to his apartment, kissing and groping all the way upstairs, ripping their clothes off and grabbing for hot flesh like…like his one night with Sandra.
He felt another pang of guilt but refused to let this be about him. Sandra was a symptom of their problems, but Peyton was the root. It seemed silly, but it had really all started with that pathetic Ivy League football game they’d attended on their first visit to Harvard and that obnoxious cheer she’d chanted at the top of her lungs with all the other snobs, even though she knew that her husband couldn’t find a decent job.
That’s all right, that’s okay, you’re gonna work for US someday!
Sure, Peyton had apologized later, and maybe it wasn’t fair to fault someone for getting caught up in the stadium hoopla after too much rum from the flask. But lately, the people she’d counted as friends didn’t need liquor to cop an air of superiority.
It was bitter cold outside, and he struggled to button his coat as he left Murphy’s. A gust of wind whipped up the snow and knocked him off balance. He slipped on the frozen sidewalk and fell on his ass. He cursed the bar, cursed Boston, cursed himself for ever having set foot in a city so crazy that people actually waxed nostalgic over the fabled hundred-hour blizzard of 1969 and grumbled over the fact that with global warming Boston didn’t get
snowstorms anymore. He missed his friends in Florida, the balmy winters, the scuba diving trips in warm waters on beautiful coral reefs. He’d given up so much, and for what? A big, prestigious law firm that worked him seventy hours a week with the elusive lure of partnership. A wife who had driven him to cheat. A wife who had cheated on him.
No way. No way in hell would Peyton cheat
. Not that he deserved such loyalty. It was just something Peyton would never do.
He kept telling himself that as he plodded through the snow and headed back to the office.
PEYTON REACHED THE LECTURE HALL A FEW MINUTES BEFORE NOON.
she’d managed to keep the war-wound talks to a minimum, but a friend caught her in the hallway just before she could disappear inside.
“Hey, Peyton,” said Gary Varne.
Gary was a nurse and, of all things, an old high school boyfriend. Their first date had been a disaster at one of those busy casual restaurants at Faneuil Hall Marketplace. A hostess was keeping a waiting list and calling out names on a loudspeaker as tables opened. Gary had left the phony name “Itsmy,” causing the hostess to announce unwittingly “Itsmy party,” upon which Gary cut across the room singing “
It’s my party and our table is ready
” to the tune of that sixties pop hit. This, of course, was sidesplitting fun to a fourteen-year-old boy and unforgivable geekiness to his fourteen-year-old date. They didn’t have another date until they were seniors, by which time Gary had turned into a hottie and Peyton was more than willing to give him a second chance. Things had gotten fairly serious, until Peyton went away to Tallahassee for college. She met Kevin and knew it was right, and never looked back.
The next time she saw Gary, she was a doctor and he was a nurse studying for the MCATs. He was definitely smart enough. Discipline was his problem. Every now and then, Peyton dropped a polite reminder that you actually had to crack the books if
your sights were set on something other than the Caribbean Correspondence College of Last Resort.
“I can’t believe you’re back at work already,” he said.
“Just for lectures. I’m taking it easy till the leg heals.”
“Good idea. They’ll probably want you to march in the parade when you get back.”
“I’m serious. From what I hear, you’re a hero among your peers.”
“Oh, yeah. The hospital dumps more tasks on its residents all the time. You’ve pretty much cinched it that they’ll never be asked to drive the hospitality bus.”
He winked and started away, but Peyton stopped him. “Hey, I never did get to thank you for that surprise birthday party. That was really sweet of you.”
“No need to thank me.”
“It was very thoughtful.”
“I mean there really is no need to thank me. I had nothing to do with it.”
For a moment, she thought he was just being mindful of Kevin’s jealous side, denying any involvement in the party so that Peyton wouldn’t have to explain anything to her husband about a handsome ex-boyfriend doing something nice for her. Kevin was not one of those people who believed that romance could dissolve into mere friendship—a philosophy that he had made abundantly clear to Gary back in college, which was the last time Gary had called to wish Peyton a happy birthday. But Peyton could see from Gary’s expression that he truly had not organized the celebration.
“Then who hired the mime I danced the tango with?”
“I don’t know. I got a note telling me to be in the lounge at nine
All I did was show up, like everyone else.”
Peyton felt a sudden chill, thinking once again of the way the mime had stared at her on the way out.
“You okay?” he asked.
“I’m fine. I just thought it was you who had arranged the party, that’s all.”
“Sorry to disappoint.”
“So who could it have been?”
“I don’t know. It came off the same haphazard way everything happens around here. Everyone got the same message to meet in the lounge for the surprise party, but no one really seemed to be in charge. After standing around a few minutes we finally we came up with the ruse to lure you to the party.”
“My supposed meeting with Landau and Sheffield?”
“Right. But that was spur of the moment. No one planned that. If you’re really curious, I could check around to see who the mastermind was.”
“No,” she said, a little too sharply.
Gary looked at her with concern. “You sure you’re okay?”
She feared she was coming across as neurotic. “I’m just a little jittery today.”
“Maybe you should sit down.”
“Yeah. Lecture’s about to start. I’ll see you around.”
She only pretended to watch as he headed down the hall, her mind buzzing. She couldn’t shake the thought of that mime staring her down as she’d rushed from the party to the ER. It had scared her a little at the time and in light of everything that had happened since, it scared her even more now. Other than Gary, she couldn’t think of another friend who would have gone to all the trouble of arranging a party. If he hadn’t done it, who had?
She stepped into the lecture hall, her focus a long way from medicine.
Sandra’s words still haunted him. Kevin hadn’t thought of his marriage that way—a competition. But maybe Sandra had a point. As with everything else, Peyton had beaten him at his own game.
To be sure, a certain prestige came with being a lawyer at one of the oldest and largest law firms in Boston. Just walking down the halls, you might bump into a former governor or United States senator, a past president of the American Bar Association, or a future federal judge. Kevin himself had been hired in a class of young associates that included a former judicial clerk to the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court and a winner of the Sears Prize, an honor bestowed on the top two graduates of Harvard Law School. Of course, Kevin’s pedigree required that he work even harder to prove he was partnership material. He gave it his all, and a few partners even led him to believe that he was on track. Only after they’d milked him for all he was worth did they begin to make it clear that, for him, the pot was empty at the end of the rainbow.
His in-box was bulging, but he didn’t bother with it. He sank into his desk chair, switched on the computer, and opened his favorite file. It wasn’t exactly firm business, but it was definitely firm related. Two years’ worth of work on the sly. This was one project he would enjoy to no end.
The office door opened. Startled, Kevin looked up and saw his boss, the frenetic Ira Kaufman, standing in the open doorway. On impulse, he hit the kill switch on his computer. The motor whined. The screen went black.
Kaufman shot him a suspicious look. “Surfing the porn sites, Stokes?”
Kevin tried to act normal, but he couldn’t hide his fluster. “Uh, no. I was just, uh—”
“Forget it. We just got hit with a slew of interrogatories in the EnviroMedix class action. I need you to work up responses and objections, probably a motion for protective order. Then let’s get on the offensive here. Fire some interrogatories right back at those losers and send out notices on the first wave of depositions. Churn some fees and maybe they’ll go away.”
“When do you need it?”
The standard Ira Kaufman deadline. “I’m leaving town in two hours for a seminar.”
“Seminars are during the day, Stokes. Seize the night.”
The door closed and Ira was gone. Kevin turned back to his computer, mildly concerned. The last time someone had barged into his office and forced him to cut off the power without logging off properly, the entire operating system had crashed.
Better to lose a little data than to get caught working on his ticket out of this place.
He switched on the power and hoped for the best.