Chapter 2: Anger
Joan had put up with a lot from Charlie over the years. He had cheated on her, controlled her and put her down - and she'd allowed it, had taken it with such little resistance she didn't even recognise herself looking back on the last 20 years. But she could deal with that stuff over and over again if it meant she got to keep her husband. Charlie was worth all the pain, because for all the hurt he caused, there was an equal amount of joy he brought to her. She put up with all of that because she was in love with him, and she'd never tire of telling him; though it was hard and hardly ever returned.
What she would not tolerate, however, was being ignored by her own husband.
Somehow that felt so much worse than her husband sleeping with young women on his nights out and the way he rarely ever even complimented her even when she made a special effort with her hair or when she got a big win at work, seemed like nothing by comparison to Charlie pretending she didn't exist.
That was just too far.
She had texted Charlie to let him know about the L.A trip, and she didn't hear a thing on the Friday. It didn't matter, she'd hoped a night in his suite at The Fairmont might have been enough time to cool down, that Charlie would be waiting for her on the sofa when she got home from work that night. She was so hopeful, in fact, that she'd knocked off at 6 to go home and talk things through. When she walked through the door, the only greetings she got were desperate cries for attention from the dogs. Charlie wasn't here, the cleaner informed her. He hadn't been home since the day he blew up at Joan and Zoey.
He didn't reply to her text on the Saturday, either. Nor on the Sunday before she went to L.A. She had even checked her phone before she got on the flight and it was radio silence. Her optimism from the night of the party was quickly dissipating, replaced with something she could only identify as frustration. No, it was worse. What was it?
"Now, Ms Bennett, tell us. What sets the SPRQ-Watch apart from its competitors? We know that smart watches aren't exactly an original ideas. What makes your watch different?"
It was Tuesday and still no word from Charlie. She was currently on a Women in Technology panel with some of the smartest women in the industry, and her mind was on her husband. She couldn't have cared any less about the watch with the thought of returning to an empty bed on Thursday evening plaguing her mind. Joan looked out to the audience; students, professors, industry leaders waiting for her answers. She was supposed to be so happy.
How dare Charlie be in her head right now? This was a big moment for her; a tribute to her career so far. It was a testament to her efforts during college, her work at Google and how she had risen through the ranks at both Google and SPRQ-Point. She was supposed to talk about all the products she had played a role in developing and launching products and services (the SPRQ-Watch was just the latest in a long list). This wasn't her first time answering questions and giving a talk at a conference, but it was the first time she didn't doubt that she deserved to be there. Not only was Charlie ignoring her, but why hadn't he ever told her she deserved to be celebrated? She told him over and over again how fantastic his game updates and launches were, how clever he was and how good he looked.
Why did he never tell her how clever she was?
She smoothed down the front of her blazer and lifted up her chin a little in defiance, "Well, there are some really good watches on the market, let's be honest. Not only is the SPRQ-watch much cleaner than it's competitors, however, it can also perform a greater variety of functions, especially in the area of health monitoring. The ability to track blood pressure and oxygen saturation in the blood, for example. Not only have we excelled ourselves with the software on this watch, but the hardware is especially elegant in comparison to other smart watches such as the Apple Watch or Fitbit."
A young woman in the audience put her hand up, question evidently burning. Joan indicated for a mic to be passed to the woman, suddenly distracted by a whirlwind of thoughts. Why wasn't Charlie responding to her text messages? Had he really stayed in the Fairmont since the day the fought over trays of sushi? How was the office doing without her? Oh, God- why had she left Zoey in charge? Could Tobin really be left alone? What if he brought another stupid animal to work? Would Zoey feel confident enough to tell him off? What if-
"What?" she snapped and for a moment the audience was quiet. Joan took a shaky sip of her glass of water and tried to calm herself down. It's not this girl's fault Charlie doesn't want you.
"I asked you about the price point for the watch, Ms Bennett."
That feeling that she initially identified as frustration was back and quickly rising from the pit of her stomach. Calm down, Joan. This is not the place. She took another breath and thought about the price point of the watch. Luxury hardware. Strong, yet clean software.
What if Charlie was sleeping with someone else?
"Well that information is available online. But if I had to compare it to another watch on the market, I'd say it's comparable in price to the Apple Watch."
"Is that really fair pricing?" she asked. "Apple has been around since the 70s, SPRQ-Point is less than 10 years old."
What she should have said was along the lines of; you're right, and isn't it amazing what we've achieved in 10 years compared with a company as established as Apple?
That's what she should have said.
"If that's how you feel, I suggest you buy an Apple Watch then," she snapped, once more knowing she had crossed a line. She felt the unfamiliar prick of tears in her eyes and the sudden rising of bile rising in her stomach. Shit.
She mumbled an apology and hurried off of the stage, promptly bursting into a jog to find the nearest toilet. What the hell was wrong with her? The girl had only asked a question and Joan had bitten her head off. The whole point of women in tech events were to foster a spirit in young women that they could achieve anything they set their minds to, that the older, more established women in the industry were at the very least, approachable. Joan hadn't always been wealthy and outspoken; she'd gotten just about everything she'd ever wanted because she'd worked for it. She couldn't help but wonder if she'd have had the same confidence that she had today if someone had spoken to her the way she did to that young woman.
She made it to the toilet just in time to throw up in the bowl, her body suddenly far too warm in spite of the venue's intense air-conditioning. As her entire body slumped into the bowl with fatigue, she held back her hair in a bunch and continued to empty the contents of her stomach into the toilet. If her marriage wasn't hanging on by a thread, she might have been mortified at herself; snapping at college freshmen for asking for the reasoning behind her product pricing and now sitting on the floor of some conference centre's bathroom in a gorgeous Vivienne Westwood ensemble shaking like an idiot.
She was pathetic and made peace with that.
She was also just so tired, yet so damn angry at Charlie for everything over the years. Joan had been very clear, she wanted to try and fix things. She was angry at the party but that didn't mean she wanted it to be over. All Joan wanted was for him to stay the whole night and see all her hard work in motion and for him to launch the product and to be by her side and to say 'how great is my wife? Aren't I the luckiest guy on the planet?' and then to tell her over and over again that she was so wonderful and talented and beautiful and to have wonderful sex and to bring her coffee in the morning to combat her headache from one too many martinis.
Joan didn't expect too much from him; she deserved to be angry with him that night because he should have been better.
She could accept that she overreacted more often than not, that maybe she should have went along with his way off doing things more often and that she was far too guilty of making this into a thing. But at that party, at the meeting with Zoey, she deserved to be listened to. She did not overreact when Charlie left the party early; she was his wife and he should have made himself available until she was finished. That night should have been on her terms, and she should not have had her product handed to her like it was her wedding ring. He should have wanted to fix it there and then. Charlie was the one who should have been better - at the launch party, at least, Joan had every damn right to make his awful behaviour into a thing.
Finally, her stomach seemed to be empty and she sat back until her head was resting against the stall door, body overcome with nausea and exhaustion. She was hit with the sudden realisation that she was on a horrible bathroom floor in one of the nicest suits she owned, and stripped from her suit jacket, wincing at how disgusting she felt. She hadn't eaten a proper meal in days and so had mostly thrown up bile, which explained the burning in her throat and the reason she felt especially nauseous right now.
Joan loved most food (not sushi) and got a real joy out of trying new restaurants. For some reason, though, she hadn't wanted to eat since the day Charlie had tore into Zoey at the office. She'd had this feeling of dread building in her stomach ever since and somehow, it made the thought of anything heavier than coffee extremely off-putting. Gosh, she felt dreadful.
Eventually, Joan got up and went to the mirror to clean herself up. The blazer would need to stay off, she noted. She looked into the mirror and saw black rings beneath bright blue eyes. Had she been crying? She didn't remember crying. Joan hadn't cried since her mother died, and before that, it was tears of joy from getting into college. Although she was usually pale, her face had taken on a new shade of pale which was almost transparent. She could wipe off the mascara and dry her eyes, but not much she could do about being pale.
A soft knock came from the door outside, and Joan went back into work mode. One final swipe of underneath her eyes and she tried to summon the sense of defiance she had felt earlier before facing whoever had drawn the short straw to go check on her. Pull yourself together, Joan.
This isn't you.
"Joan," spoke a New Yorker on her right as she exited the bathroom. "You look like shit."
Alan Johnson, a former Google colleague who now lectured at UCLA, had been sent it seemed. People like Alan didn't go check on women throwing up/crying in the bathroom of their own. Not possible. Maria, the organiser, must have sent him.
"Thanks Alan," she replied with a weak smile. "Sorry, I think I ate something weird at breakfast and I've been sick all morning. I shouldn't have bothered with the panel, but I didn't want to let Maria down. Do I need to apologise to the girl?"
He shook his head, "I don't think so. Just try not to make anymore college students cry, alright?"
"No promises," she mumbled. "Hey, do you mind if I go back to my hotel and try and sleep this off? I'd rather be on my game for tomorrow's demo than go out for karaoke tonight. Do you mind?"
He looked her over once more, making her feel so small by comparison. He was always well-kept, lovely suits and briefcases worn at all times. He wasn't a particularly approachable or warm guy, but he and Joan were pretty similar. Ambitious and a little scary at times, sure, but he was the sort of person who you could count on and Joan liked that. It wasn't like he was ever really an option for her, but especially not now in her disheveled and pale state. And plus, there was no world where smelling like regurgitated coffee was sexy in any possible way.
"I'm going to ask you something, Joan and I want you not to get mad at me. Do you promise?'
"Nope, but you can ask me anyway."
He took a deep breath, "Are you alright? Like really alright, I mean."
No, she conceded to herself.
She really wasn't alright. The vomit on the bottom of her suit pants was evidence enough of that.
She had tried so hard to sleep when she got back to her hotel room, but every minute was spent trying not to think of Charlie. The decision to avoid thoughts of her husband were so challenging, she couldn't bring herself to sleep. She was wide awake and with every hour that passed, the rage that had led her to kneeling over the toilet at the convention centre was back and she was no longer attempting to stifle it.
It had got to 6PM and she still wasn't really to eat anything, but she was absolutely more than ready for a bottle of wine.
She had called up room service, requesting a bottle and a glass to be sent to her room. The most expensive or the cheapest, she had never really minded. Joan wasn't typically a big drinker, so wine usually went to her head quicker than it did most women her age.
One glass down, and she was a little more tired than she was earlier. It would have been nice if she finally could have caught a decent sleep, but she would settle for just feeling more relaxed.
When the bottle was around halfway done, she decided to check her phone again.
11AM: Danny Michael Davis - Heard the launch party was great. Next time, let's go for radical. Remember to think bigger and better and all that. Say thanks to the team for me.
1PM: Danny Michael Davis - Got a call from someone at the conference, I feel like shouting at college kids might be bad for business.
1.30PM: Dogwalker - Joan, can you give me a call about this month's payment when you get a chance?
4PM: Zoey Clarke - Hey, everything has been fine here, I'll fill you in properly on Thursday. I'm a little worried about you, here if you need me. Here if you don't.
Not a work from Charlie. What was he playing at? Did he mention any work meetings or trips coming up? He was going to New York at the end of the month and then London the week after, but he was supposed to be at work in San Francisco this week. Why wasn't he answering his phone?
Draining the rest of the contents of her wine glass, she refilled it and contemplated her options carefully. She could speak to Zoey, she had offered after all and she did seem to care, at least a little. But Zoey was her subordinate, and she wasn't sure if they were just boss and subordinate, or if they were really friends. Joan didn't really have any friends, she supposed she had Charlie to thank for-
She plucked up the courage and just called him, Charlie, her husband, like it was the most natural thing in the world. While the call rang, she polished off yet another glass as the pounding in her heart subsided and for the first time in a long time, she wasn't afraid to tell him how badly he had hurt her. She wasn't going to be ignored anymore and he was going to listen to her. Just as soon as she found that damn bottle of wine.
As she was reaching for it, the call connected and Joan was met with a soft, "Hello?"
She took a second to pull away from the phone to make sure she had called the right number. It said 'Charlie' so why was a woman answering his phone? Was it his assistant at work or- Oh! Oh, shit. Her heart sank.
"Can I speak to my husband, please?"
"Sure," the girl replied, and then Joan heard her whisper to Charlie; "You told me you were divorced."
With a heavy sigh, Charlie was on the line, "What is it, Joan?"
"What is it? Charlie you've ignored me since Friday! You seen a text message from me and you chose to ignore it. The cleaner told me you've not been in the house since last week. You can't just leave the dogs alone, Charlie. And what about me? Do you not want to fix this?"
"Well," he replied carefully. "I don't want you to work yourself up over this - you know how you get sometimes - but I'm in the house now. So the dogs have been fed and walked and watered. You don't need to worry about that."
"How are you so fucking calm! You're a dick Charlie. You brought another woman into my house, our house and you think that's okay! I know the dogs are fine, it's us I'm worried about," she shouted, perhaps too loud for her neighbours and the sophisticated atmosphere one was supposed to embody at a hotel like this. Joan didn't care, she was almost a bottle of wine down and she deserved to have what she wanted to say, said.
"Right, I just need the truth, Charlie. Do you have any interest in repairing this marriage?"
"No," he said, far too quickly. "I want out."
The moment he hung up, she launched her new, overpriced iPhone against the wall. It collided with a smash and the screen fell to pieces on the ground by the window. She sunk back on to the bed as tears begun to cascade down her cheeks, hot and without restraint. She wanted the bed to suck her in and swallow her whole. She was alone for the first time in 20 years and had no idea how to live her life without the idea of having someone waiting on her at night.
She poured herself the last drops from the bottle of wine, fighting against the bile rising in her throat once more.