He closed her car door, then rushed to the other side and climbed into the driver's seat. The rain was freezing now and great dollops of sleet plopped heavily against the windshield. The wind pitched small twigs and debris from the sidewalk against the car. He put his key in the ignition and turned on the heat before buckling his seat belt. His hands were raw. He blew on them.
"That was fun," he said. "It's been a long time since we've been out to dinner with friends. We should do that more often."
She nodded, then looked straight ahead, though there was nothing to see in the dim light. He turned up the defrosters.
"That lamb was incredible," he said. "What do you suppose she used to season it? Rosemary? Sage?"
She rubbed her hands together quickly and drew her shoulders up so that her neck disappeared in the silky collar of her coat. He could see her profile by the light from the dash, her delicate nose and lips. The wipers swooshed across the glass, a metronome ticking.
"Sounds like things are going well for Jack. He doesn't have to travel much anymore, so that's good. I'll bet they're both happy about him being transferred to the Carolinas. Especially this time of year." He watched the widening half-circles of clear glass emerge above the blowers. "You okay?" he said. "You seem tired."
"Yes," she said. He didn't know whether she was responding to his question or confirming his observation. He didn't ask.
She withdrew further into her jacket, like a turtle entering its shell. He could barely see the fine wisps of fur on the ruff of her collar move with her breath.
"Well, we should invite them over soon, before they leave. Maybe make your beef bourguignon. Everybody loves that."
She reached down and touched the knob of the radio. It was Saturday night, jazz on NPR.
"They don't get older. Did you notice that? I mean, Trisha still looks like she did in college. It's incredible." He backed up slowly and maneuvered himself out of the parking space. It was beginning to snow. There were still a few brown leaves clinging to the branches, but there was no mistaking that winter was upon them.
"You're still a little in love with her," she said. She folded her arms across her chest.
"You can't be serious," he said. "Is that why you've been so quiet?" He shook his head. It was true that Trisha had once broken his heart. They'd been dating seriously for four years and Evan assumed they'd marry as soon as he finished law school. Then she met Jack. That was 20 years ago.
"They're splitting up, you know." She said it frankly, as though it were common knowledge.
"What?" he said. He felt as though he'd been punched in the stomach. "Did Trisha say something? I mean, how do you know?"
"How could you not know," she said. There was irritation in her voice. Last night, when the two of them had argued, she had called him oblivious.
He looked through the rearview mirror as though trying to conjure up the clues his wife had seen.
"But they've been married a long time," he said. "Longer than we have."
He heard her inhale and hold her breath — counting, he thought — then exhale slowly through her nostrils. In the dim light, he could see her bite her lower lip.
"It's just that I think I would have noticed something," he said. "They seem happy." He tapped his fingers lightly against the steering wheel, keeping beat.
"Lots of people seem happy, Evan." She leaned forward to lift her purse from the floor. He heard her open it, rifle through the contents. He stopped at a traffic light. He watched her lower the visor, her face illuminated by the vanity lights of the mirror. He heard the lid of her lipstick tube click. She reached down to turn up the radio.
He put on his signal and turned left on Ash.
"But she didn't tell you anything, right? This is just speculation." It was important that he know.
"Would you stop, please?" she said. She put her fingers to her temples and pressed hard.
"Stop where? Here, you mean?" he said. There was a convenience store just ahead.
"I mean stop talking. My head hurts."
He looked in his mirror, at the line of traffic moving slowly behind him. The roads were slippery and people were taking their time. He pulled into the convenience store lot anyway and put the car in park.
"I'm going to get a cup of coffee. Want some?" he said.
"I'll go," she said. "I could use the fresh air."
It seemed to him that she'd been getting headaches more frequently lately, though it was hard to say. She had suffered from migraines for as long as he could remember.
He watched as she stepped out of the car, closing the door behind her. She moved her hand along the fender to keep herself from slipping. Her heels seemed impossibly slim. When she reached the sidewalk and opened the front door of the convenience store, he released his breath. He hadn't realized he'd been holding it.
He sat in the warm car, peering through the windshield and the glass of the convenience store. He watched his wife remove two Styrofoam cups from the holder and set them down on the counter, then reach for the pot of coffee. She would pick up the packets of sugar — one for him, two for her —and spill the contents carefully into the cups, tapping the ends of the packets vigorously with her index finger before throwing them away. She would stir in the slightest hint of cream — half and half, not the fake stuff — being careful not to slosh, before capping each cup. It was a ritual he'd watched hundreds of times over the years, but one he barely noticed any longer, a compulsion rather than a science.
Was it true that people projected happiness, that you could know someone 20 years and not really know them? He supposed it was. There was that period long ago when he and Lauren were struggling — What was it? Ten years ago now? 11? — when they thought they might divorce. They had separated, in fact, he moving into an apartment they'd purchased as a rental property shortly before the break up. Yet they'd attended family functions together, gone out as a couple with friends. They had reconciled without anyone knowing that they had ever been apart: not their elderly parents, their colleagues, their closest friends. Maybe we are all oblivious, he thought.
He tried to remember now just what had led them to that point. There hadn't been other lovers, nor any major grievances between them. It seemed to him that there was just a gradual growing apart, until one day they noticed that there was nothing to say to each other, and Lauren suggested they seek counseling. Evan had been opposed to this, not because he had anything to hide, but because he didn't believe a stranger could effectively tie them back together. We need time, he suggested, time to look forward to seeing each other again. He had been right, in the end, though it had been a gamble, one he wouldn't take at this point in his life.
He wondered if Trisha was seeing someone else. The thought pained him, not because he was in love with her, but because he once had been, and he thought leaving Jack would be a mistake for her. Trisha was restless, incapable of committing to anything for long, so it surprised him that there had not been indiscretions earlier. He found that as the years went by, he rooted for them. They were good people. He wanted them to be happy.
What is happiness? Is it waking up every morning beside the same person, knowing that at some point you truly loved them? Is it having someone to talk to at the end of the day? Is it knowing you have a job that doesn't bore you to tears and children who don't turn out to be criminals? Is it having enough money to buy the things you need and many of the things you want, a house big enough to entertain in, and friends who will gladly accept the invitation? Is it knowing that you could manage to live your life as it now exists for another 20, 30, or 40 years and just not feel a damn thing one way or another? Or is it something bigger?
These are the questions Lauren had asked her to consider. They'd been sleeping together for months, a fact that had gone thankfully unnoticed by either of their husbands but which pained them both. Now Trisha was moving and there were decisions that needed to be made.
Lauren stood beside the passenger door, the coffee in her hands. Evan pressed the button to lower the window, then reached over to take the cups from her, one at a time, so that she could open the door and get in. He noticed that her hair was covered in white and that the snow was already creating tiny spots of dampness where it melted on her gloves and sleeves.
"It's only October and it's snowing already," he said.
She brought the cup to her lips and blew on it before taking a sip.
"She's leaving him," she said.
"You get decaf?" he said. "If you have a headache, you should probably try to fall asleep." He put the car in reverse and backed out.
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