"How soon can you get here?"
It wasn't what it sounded like.
"I'll leave tomorrow morning."
It couldn't possibly mean what it sounded like.
"See you there."
Bob had denied it — said it was another business trip — but even from the kitchen Helen could hear him moving about their bedroom, packing his bag with far more excitement than could be produced by an insurance conference.
Helen stirred the spaghetti sauce as it started to bubble on the stove, trying to ignore the rolling waves in her stomach or the way that her hand trembled while holding the spoon.
She was wrong. She had to be wrong.
The last two months had been so good. The extra money Bob had been bringing home had been nice; the new car didn't break down on the way to pick up the kids and they'd put in a deck in the backyard. But that stuff couldn't compare to the fact that Bob was ... happy. He was happy! He was spending time with the kids and he'd whistled as Dash walked across the stage at his graduation and with the weight loss, his confidence was through the roof. He'd reminded her of the Mr. Incredible from all those years ago.
But that wasn't all.
She had reveled in his attention to her; it was like it had been when they were newlyweds. They'd gone out for a fancy dinner — just the two of them — for the first time since Dash was born, and Bob had taken her swing dancing a week ago, and they were planning to go again on Friday, and if Bob had had more trouble than usual getting out of the house in the morning, well, she was just returning the attention. They were closer than they'd been in years, and she wouldn't trade it for —
But it had all happened after Bob had come back from that first conference.
She squeezed her eyes shut, trying desperately not to think about the platinum hair on Bob's suit jacket or the fact that he was humming — humming! — in the other room. An unexpected tear fell and sizzled as it impacted the hot burner.
Helen rubbed viciously at the other tears gathering in her eyes and let out a deep, shuddering breath. She was not going to cry. She wouldn't allow herself to do that ... not when she didn't have any real proof.
It was all circumstantial, she told herself. She had no indisputable reason to believe that Bob was having an ... A long, blonde hair could be picked up anywhere. Yeah ... and the receptionist at Insuricare certainly had such a deep and husky voice whenever she called their employees about business trips. At home. After hours.
"What?" The word came out heavy and garbled, and Helen cleared her throat, willing the knot lodged there to dissipate.
"Where's my travel case for my razor?"
"It should be in the bottom drawer in the bathroom."
The drawer opened and she could hear her husband rummaging around.
"I don't see it!"
Frustration mixed with the anxiety pooling in Helen's stomach, and she resisted the urge to scream that she had to do everything around this house. She pursed her lips together — hard — and stalked into the bathroom. Without looking at Bob, she dug through the drawer and then held up the small case.
"Sorry," he said sheepishly. At least he had the decency to sound abashed. "I didn't see it there."
"I know." He did this all the time.
"Thank you for finding it."
He reached over and kissed her on the forehead, and in spite of herself, Helen felt some of her anger melt away. But she still couldn't deny that her insides warred between wanting to be as far away from Bob as possible and wanting to drag him to her and learn that he still truly loved her.
She hesitated in that moment, and Bob went back to his packing. He opened the shaving case to make sure the razor was inside, and then he grabbed his toothbrush and a comb from the top drawer.
"Are you okay?"
Helen started, realizing that she was just standing there, staring at the bathroom counter. And now he was staring at her. She met Bob's eyes for the first time since confronting him outside his office and attempted to smile.
"I'm fine." She hoped the false cheer didn't give her away. "Just disappointed we'll have to cancel swing dancing on Friday."
"I know. But I'll make it up to you when I get back."
And that should have been enough when she had no real proof, but his assurance only made her want to vomit from the images in her head of him getting back after a weekend with "Tall, Blonde, and Beautiful." And to continue the metaphor, she thought that maybe she'd stop feeling so sick if she just let it all out and asked him if he was ...
But that hair and the voice on the phone and the humming played again in Helen's mind and even though her proof was circumstantial, it was damning all the same. So instead of asking the question she didn't want the answer to, she leaned against the doorframe and smiled.
"So, where are you going?"
"Ahh ... Seattle, I think."
Helen's brow furrowed. "You think?"
Bob smiled and shrugged. "Hey, I just go where the company sends me! Insurance is the same wherever you go!"
"I guess. It's just that ... you seem especially excited about an insurance conference."
Bob stilled for a second, as if he'd given something away, and Helen's heart plunged to the floor. He recovered quickly, but it was enough to know without a doubt that he was hiding something.
"Well, like you said, it's nice to know they're recognizing my talents. That's what we've always wanted, right?" He gripped her arms and kissed her again, this time on her cheek. "The only thing that would make it better is if you were coming with me!"
She had no idea what to say. There was absolutely nothing she could say. And if he kept looking at her like that — while she knew he was lying — she'd lose it. But there was someone looking out for her even as fate played its cruelest trick on her, because the front door opened, and then Violet called out, "Mom? Is something burning?"
The spaghetti sauce! Helen whirled around, leaving Bob in the bathroom, thankful that she could focus on saving dinner instead of dealing with her potentially crumbling marriage.
Though slightly burnt, dinner was the same as it had been for the last two months. Dash monopolized the conversation with anecdotes about summer school and Bob, finally fully engaged, asked Violet about her upcoming transition to the high school across town. Helen didn't think anyone noticed that she didn't say much, that she focused instead on helping Jack-Jack with his food.
Afterwards, the baby was predictably covered in noodles and sauce. Helen gave him a bath and dressed him in PJs and read him his Doozledorfs book three times. By the time she put him down, Bob was already in bed with the lights out. He was probably already asleep considering he had to get up so early, and that was just fine with Helen. The last thing that she wanted was to have to deal with the ... enthusiasm Bob had been showing in the bedroom the last few weeks.
She pulled on her pajamas and laid down facing the window. The bed dipped behind her and she realized Bob wasn't as asleep as she assumed. Without a word, he rolled over and pressed himself against her back. They slept like this often, and Helen hated that she had to resist the urge to flinch.
"Good night." Bob's breath fluttered on Helen's ear; it was so familiar and intimate and her heart seized again.
"Good night," she whispered back, but she couldn't stop the thoughts that that good night might be a good-bye, and she allowed a few silent tears to trail down her cheeks.
Answers would come soon enough, but for tonight, she pulled Bob's arms tighter around her waist.