She waited a week before revealing the secret.
Liz sat me down in the living room to tell me. I could see she had something going on, though. Distracted, quiet, even moody. I’d asked several times before she finally told me.
“Oh, I’m just tired’s all,” she’d say. Or, “Nothing. Everything’s fine. Do you want there to be something wrong?” Eventually, after a week of this, I just stopped noticing, at least with any intent.
That’s when she dropped the bomb.
“I’m leaving here,” she said.
Not, “I’m leaving you,” but, “I’m leaving here.”
“Liz, what’s going on? I’ve noticed something’s wrong for over a week, and now, ‘I’m leaving here’?” I said, not sure if I should lean in or rock back like I would if punched in the face, which is what this felt like.
“I, I can’t do this anymore. It’s all too much,” she said. She couldn’t look me in the eye, but I could see hers darting about the room as if looking for some means of escape other than through me.
“Can’t do what? What’s too much?”
“This, here, everything.”
“I don’t know,” she said. “I guess it’s…”
Her phone rang with a ringtone I’d not heard before. She took a quick glance, rolled her eyes to the ceiling and took a deep breath.
“I’ve got to take this. I’ll be right back,” she said. She got up from the chair and moved one room away into the kitchen.
My mind raced, trying to make sense of what was happening. But even through all the questions ringing in my mind, I could hear her whisper from the kitchen.
“No, not yet… No. I’m trying, but it’s hard… You don’t understand… I told you not to call… I’ll call you when I’m done… No.” Then a muffled something that sounded to me like, “Love you.”
I got up from my chair and walked toward the kitchen, where Liz quickly whispered, “I’ll call you later,” and cut off her call.
“Okay, Liz, what the hell’s going on? The detached behavior for the past two weeks, telling me you’re leaving, the secret phone calls? If you’ve got a beef with me, at least have the decency, the balls, to tell me straight up. There’s nothing you can’t tell me, okay? We’ve been through too much to keep secrets from one another, especially something as obviously disturbing as whatever’s on your mind,” I said.
She wandered over to the coffee maker and poured herself a second cup. Black. And if Miss Sweetness and Light was going to drink her coffee straight, I knew I’d better brace myself.
“Please sit down, JJ,” she said, pointing to the kitchen table. With the shuffle of chair legs on the tile floor, we each settled into seats on the opposite side of the old wooden table we bought at a flea market when Liz and I moved in together.
She looked at her refection amid the steam on the ebony surface of her coffee and took a deep breath, which caught in her throat.
“There’s this man, I met,” she said.
Finally, I knew what was coming.
“I found him online and we’ve been talking to each other for a month at night while you’re sleeping or engrossed in some TV show,” she said, which felt like a backhand to my reddening cheeks.
“A man? You’re leaving me for some man you met only a month ago?” I said a little too loudly. Now I felt like throwing a backhand.
She stared into her mug some more and looked like the steam had condensed in her eyes and was dripping down her cheeks. If she ever left me, I felt sure it would be for another woman. After all, she’d left her boyfriend two years ago to be with me and I was anything but a man.
I got up from my chair, it’s legs squealing in protest to my sudden explosion of energy I’d been tamping down since Liz began her harried silent treatment.
“Fine,” I said. “Go. I guess I never expected a pretty girl lie you could stay with troll like me forever anyway. But never for a man, even if you are bi.”
“Stop it, JJ,” she shouted. “I’m not leaving you for another man. I’m not leaving YOU. I’m leaving here to finally meet my father, you idiot. But if that’s the way you really feel about me, then maybe I should.”
Her anger had brought the color back to her soft white cheeks. The skin I’d come to adore. I was hurt, but once again, I’d hurt her worse.
“I didn’t want to say anything until I was sure. I’ve been living without a father my whole life. It left me feeling rejected. You know how my analyst says that’s why I always ended up with what she thought were father figures. She even included you in that group,” she said.
“Well how about that?” I said. I’d never been the most feminine woman, but I was far from anybody’s even desperate surrogate for a runaway father. My turn to roll my eyes.
“JJ, I love you. But I have to see what it’s like to have a father, see what Kevin’s all about. He says he never wanted to leave me, but Mother, the domineering bitch, chased him off with her lawyer brother and threats from her family. I’ve been searching all my life for the truth. Now I may have found it. I’m sure I’ve found my father,” she said.
“You couldn’t tell me this?” I said, rather more weakly than I thought I could.
“I thought you’d ridicule me, a 30-year-old woman searching for her Daddy like I got lost in the mall.”
“No, honey, I wouldn’t. I’m sorry to hear you felt that way.”
“Well, I’m leaving Tuesday for Vancouver. That’s where he lives, Vancouver,” she gave a kind of ironic chuckle and said. “But I’ll be back, I promise. I only took a two-week leave of absence from work.”
“You couldn’t even tell me that?”
“No, I really was afraid of how you’d react. And I’m glad you seem to be taking it so well. That you understand why I have to do this.”
“Not really. Not with my history of being tossed out at sixteen by my old man when I came out. But I won’t stand in your way, even if this dude is some fraud serial killer who’ll take you away from me permanently,” I said, surprised at the catch in my voice. “But let me help you pack and take you to the airport.”
Which I did, with the teary bon voyages and long hugs and kisses you might see in the movies when Johnnie marches off to war.
A week later, I got her email saying she indeed was leaving me for another man. The father thing had been true. She had found her father in Vancouver. But the Internet affair and three-day business trips to the Pacific Northwest had been to see some guy name Bret she met out there. I shipped her things to her and that was that. She’d already packed most of her secrets and took them with her a week before.
Like I said, she waited a week before revealing her secret. It just wasn’t the week or the one I expected.
For Day 8 of my May story-a-day challenge, I had to write a story based on the first sentence of this piece, as offered by artist and writer Marta Pelrine-Bacon. Tis one came quickly, between 6:00 and 7:30 this morning. Hope it hits the mark for some of you.