By Kai Harris
I know it’s her before I even see the stick-on name tag attached to her shirt. In the beginning, he refused to tell me her name. He said he didn’t like talking about her because he didn’t want to think about her when he was with me. But I suspected he didn’t want me to know her name because, deep down, he worried that one day, I’d go looking for her. His perfect wife.
Only four people in line stand between me and her. She’s close enough that I can hear her voice. It’s not what I expect, which surprises me because I didn’t realize I had expectations of what her voice would sound like. But now that it’s deep with a slight lilt at the top, I’m caught off guard.
“Next,” she speaks in that voice. The line inches forward and my palms itch. When I made the decision to find her—to tell her about my relationship with her husband, to tell her I loved him and wouldn’t go away without a fight—I underestimated how fast it would make my heart beat, how shallow my breath would be in my chest.
“Next,” she speaks again, pulling her hair back behind her ears. I knew she wore her hair natural, because once when I mentioned to him that I was thinking of growing locs, he’d said, “My mom has locs, and the wife. I love women who have the confidence to wear them.” It was always that way, “the wife” and not “my wife,” as if the subtle difference would make me less aware of his attachment. After that talk, I straightened my hair. I twist a strand between my fingers now, comparing my thin, shoulder-length tresses to the curled spirals sprawling from her head. Her fuchsia lips are pursed into a perfect heart. Yeah, confidence was certainly the right word.
Before meeting Terrance, I wasn’t the type of woman to mess with a married man. All my friends did it, but not me. I had cheated on every boyfriend I ever had, but for some reason, messing with someone else’s man was a line I refused to cross.
But this was different. We met by chance, on a day we should have never met, when I was getting my hair done on the opposite side of town and he was skipping work, landing us both at the corner by the only liquor store in town that keeps both Hot Cheetos and Peach Faygo in stock at the same time, and the laundromat with the super dryers for only $0.50.
“Excuse me,” he’d started, as I pretended not to hear, “do you have the time?” He had short dark hair, waves and a tight fade. Deep, dark eyes that were hard not to stare into.
“Are you serious,” I responded, “brothas still using that line?”
He smirked. “What makes you think it’s a line? I actually just need to know what time it is. My phone died, and I think I might be late to a meeting.”
“Oh,” I said, trying to hide my embarrassment, “It’s 4:17.” I started to walk away, but he was still standing in front of me. “Is there something else?”
“I was just wondering if you might want to grab a cup of coffee or something.” He offered a sly smile out the side of his mouth, showing off his strong chin and gorgeous cheekbones.
“I thought you were late.”
“Turns out,” he started, lifting his clearly not-dead cellphone and waving it in front of me, “the line still works. Long as it works, a brotha’s gone use it.”
I smiled, even though I didn’t mean to.
“Terrance,” he said. His nearly black eyes didn’t leave my gaze for even a second.
“Makayla,” I said. And we didn’t say anything else, because enough had already been said.
“Next.” There’s only one more person, and then it will be me and her. I always worried about running into her. Detroit is a big city, but still, I thought the odds were in favor of me running into her at a grocery store or post office, or leaving her house some morning she was supposed to be out of town. But somehow, it never happened. I never ran into her, even after months and months of fucking her husband. It was like there was no consequence, no judge or jury. Just me and Terrance, no Joy. The ease of it was excruciating.
“Next.” I step up and look down at Joy, sitting neatly in her chair with her legs crossed at the ankles. “What can we do for you?”
Before coming here, I had planned a speech. It started with me confessing to Joy, telling her every detail of our affair, watching her eyes widen with disgust. I would start with the time he’d fucked me in her bed—brought me scrambled eggs and fresh fruit and a picked sunflower to that bed the next morning—when she left town for the weekend to bury her Grandma. She needed to know, it was only fair.
“Can I help you with something?” she asks again, shifting in her seat.
“Hi,” I finally speak. Up close, her face is like a portrait. I study its depths, the creases at her eyes and soft lines formed from years of smiling. “I—I’m here to sign up for the workshop.”
“Great,” Joy says, handing me a clipboard. “And why are you interested in learning more about the topic?” Her eyes—the softest color brown, with a bit of gold right in the center—are deep, thoughtful. “Are you married?” She offers me a smile that says ‘of course you could be married.’
“Not yet,” I say, forgetting my speech as I glance over the paper in my hands, the giant headline, Make Marriage Work! centered on top. “Hopefully soon.” I smile at Joy, and I mean it.