Saturday, April 6, 2013 – 4:02 pm – Room 1430 at The Hyatt Hotel in the Bellevue, Philadelphia
It started when I talked to Jake. Well, I suppose it began before I spoke to Jake, but it all came to fruition when I talked to Jake. My suspicions, my fears, Jake brought it to light. He painted a picture. An ugly picture. A view of lies and deceit and betrayal. But I can’t say Jake created the image; he rather colored in the lines. The stencil was already there. The framework. How the woman of my world could cheat on me. I sensed it ever since we started falling asleep in silence, my wife and I. God, and I can’t even remember when that was.
I remember a time when we fell asleep in one another’s arms, interlocked and spooning until both of our eyelids closed shut. We met again in our dream worlds, dancing and parading around until the sunlight woke us up again, still wrapped in each other, and we smiled and fucked until we were both late for work. I remember it as if it were yesterday, which it most certainly is not. Yesterday was the same routine as it has been since I can’t remember. We fall asleep, separately, physically and emotionally, and wake up at odd hours for work or children. Neither of us talking, just moving through the motions of our lives. Our love was a tiny blue flame flickering for life against the most casual breeze. We aren’t teenagers anymore, nor do we pretend to be. Yet unwarranted happiness shined out of her about two weeks ago. Youthful exuberance is unbecoming of our age and lifestyle, and my suspicions immediately arose.
Then the matchbook appeared.
A miniature, rectangular cardboard matchbox could hold about a dozen or so matches, yet this only had four. It read Bellevue – Stratford wrote in white script over top of a black background. I found it in her coat pocket searching for some gum roughly a week ago, and it festered in the back of my mind like a scab trying to heal, which wouldn’t, because of the amount of time I spent picking at it. Toiling over and over on why a woman, who didn’t smoke, would have a matchbook, from a hotel I’ve never heard of, where all but four matches remained. It just didn’t add up. And then I talked to Jake.
“I’m telling you, something is up,” I said, shaking my head in the Starbucks down the street from my work as Jake listened to me rant from the other side of the table. “I looked up the place online, and it’s this hotel in Center City right off Broad Street. We’ve never been; in fact, she hates the city. Why would she have a matchbook from there?”
“Why do you think she would have a matchbook from there?” Jake said more than he asked. I only shook my head and stared down into my coffee.
“Come on, Sam,” he said. “You know damn well you think she’s cheating on you. Just come out and say it.”
“I have no proof.”
“You may never have proof, but you’ve been married for what, ten years?”
“Twelve,” I said. It would be thirteen this summer.
“Dude, you know her by now. You would know if something was up. If you suspect her cheating on you, I hate to say it, but she probably is.”
I sank my face even lower toward the table. Despite us not being the couple we once were, I had no idea what sort of man I would be without her, and I had no intention of finding out. That part of my life was gone, and I need her to move forward.
“She says she needs to leave town this Wednesday for her work, and that she won’t be back till Thursday afternoon. Her agency never asked her to do that before, and she was very sketchy on the details on why when I inquired about it.”
“What did she say she was doing?” Jake asked.
“She said she was entertaining a potential client. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just paranoid. Maybe she is just entertaining a client. It’s not unrealistic.”
“Where are the kids?”
“They’re in Somerville with her mother for another week.”
“The school district lengthened spring break because of the lack of snow days this year.”
“Hmm.” Jake brought his chocolate coffee concoction to his lips and took a sip, nodding his head softly.
“What,” I asked.
“She’s never had to travel before for her job?”
“And she’s doing it now, coincidently when the kids are at her mother’s?”
I scratched the back of my head and picked the thought with nervous anxiety at his implication. Strange how I never put the two together before Jake had mentioned it.
“I don’t know what to do. What should I do?”
“Does she know you know about the matchbook?” Jake asked.
“No. I put it right back in the same pocket I pulled it out from. Why?”
“Maybe you should go, this Wednesday. To the hotel, I mean.”
“And do what? Knock on every door and see if she answers?”
“If you get desperate enough,” Jake said, laughing slightly. I was desperate enough, and I found his joke not very funny at all. “Look,” he continued to say, sensing my lack of enthusiasm for his quip, “I was at that hotel a while ago; it’s not very big at all. There’s about eight floors starting at fourteen, a members-only gym, and a restaurant on the top floor. Just hang around for a night and be observant. If she’s there, I’m sure you’ll be able to spot her. Read a book in the lobby or something so you can watch who leaves and enters. All I’m saying is that, if it were me, I wouldn’t be able to sleep until I uncovered the truth.”
Jake downed the rest of his foamy beverage and stood up, pushing his chair underneath the table and slamming the now empty cup into a trash can off to his right.
“And what if I find her there?” I asked, wanting to know while he was still there.
“Then you have your answer,” he said. He took a couple of steps out of the door and turned around with his hand on the handle before saying, “If I were you, though, I’d be more worried if I didn’t find her there.” With that final tidbit of knowledge, he left, lighting a cigarette as he joined a group of businessmen descending into a subway tunnel. I stayed for another hour or so in a mild state of paranoia, ultimately deciding that I would be much happier if I didn’t find her at the hotel. But the thought never left me. The back of my head itched and burned.
That morning I kissed her goodbye, an action we haven’t initiated in quite a while. Just the act itself reminded me of how distant we had become. It caught her off guard, and she looked at me afterward as if I were a stranger. I watched her get in her car from just behind the window blinds, and I saw her stare at the home she had helped build. She gazed for a full minute before she backed the car out of the driveway. I could sense the secrecy behind her eyes in that stare. The shame she felt, I could feel it. Later that hour, I worked up the courage to make a reservation at the hotel, checking to see if anybody had made a reservation under my wife’s name already, which nobody had. And now, several hours later, I am sitting in a victorian style hotel room on the fourteenth floor of the Bellevue in downtown Philadelphia, talking myself out of knocking on every single door in the hotel out of sheer desperation to uncover the truth.