At two A.M. I crawled into bed and rolled onto my back. The ceiling started doing the too-many-drinks spins. I grabbed the sides of the bed and hung on.
Shauna had earlier asked if I had ever been tempted to cheat after getting married. She'd added that last part - the "after getting married" part - because she already knew about the other incident.
Technically, I did cheat on Elizabeth once, though cheating doesn't really fit. Cheating denotes doing harm to another. It didn't harm Elizabeth - I'm sure of that - but during my freshman year of college, I partook in a rather pitiful rite of passage known as the collegiate one-night stand. Out of curiosity, I guess. Purely experimental and strictly physical. I didn't like it much. I'll spare you the corny sex-without-love-is-meaningless cliche. It's not. But while I think it's fairly easy to have sex with someone you don't particularly know or like, it's hard to stay the night. The attraction, as it were, was strictly hormonal. Once the, uh, release took place, I wanted out. Sex is for anyone; the aftermath is for lovers.
Pretty nice rationalization, don't you think?
If it matters, I suspect Elizabeth probably did something similar. We both agreed that we would try to "see" - "see" being such a vague, all-encompassing term - other people when we first got to college. Any indiscretion could thus be chalked up to yet another commitment test. Whenever the subject was raised, Elizabeth denied that there had ever been anyone else. But then again, so did I.
The bed continued to spin as I wondered: What do I do now?
For one thing, I wait for five o'clock tomorrow. But I couldn't just sit back until then. I'd done enough of that already, thank you very much. The truth was - a truth I didn't like to admit even to myself - I hesitated at the lake. Because I was scared. I climbed out of the water and paused. That gave whomever a chance to hit me. And I didn't fight back after that first strike. I didn't dive for my assailant. I didn't tackle him or even make a fist. I simply went down. I covered up and surrendered and let the stronger man take away my wife.
I considered approaching my father-in-law again - it hadn't escaped my attention that Hoyt might have been less than forthcoming during my previous visit - but what good would that do? Hoyt was either lying or... or I don't know what. But the message had been clear. Tell no one. The only way I could maybe get him to talk would be by telling him what I saw on that street cam. But I wasn't ready to do that yet.
I got out of bed and hopped on the computer. I started surfing again. By morning, I had something of a plan.
Gary Lamont, Rebecca Schayes's husband, didn't panic right away. His wife often worked late, very late, sometimes spending the night on an old cot in the far right corner of her studio. So when four in the morning rolled around and Rebecca still wasn't home, he grew only concerned, not panicked.
At least, that's what he told himself.
Gary called her studio, but the answering machine picked up. Again that wasn't rare. When Rebecca was working, she hated interruptions. She didn't even keep a phone extension in the darkroom. He left a message and settled back into their bed.
Sleep came in fits and spurts. Gary contemplated doing something more, but that would only piss off Rebecca. She was a free spirit, and if there was a tension in their otherwise fulfilling relationship, it had to do with his relatively "traditional" lifestyle "clipping" her creative wings. Her terms.
So he gave her space. To unclip her wings or whatever.
By seven in the morning, concern had segued into something closer to genuine fear. Gary's call woke up Arturo Ramirez, Rebecca's gaunt, black-clad assistant.
"I just got in, "Arturo complained groggily.
Gary explained the situation. Arturo, who had fallen asleep in his clothes, did not bother changing. He ran out the door. Gary promised to meet him at the studio. He hopped on the downtown A.
Arturo arrived first and found the studio door ajar. He pushed it open.
No answer. Arturo called her name again. Still no answer. He entered and scanned the studio. She wasn't there. He opened the darkroom door. The usual harsh smell of film-development acids still dominated, but there was something else, something faint and below the surface that still had the ability to make his hair stand on end.
Something distinctly human.
Gary rounded the corner in time to hear the scream.