By Frances Applequist
Rayna creamed her ebony face and wondered, How much self-care is self-ish? She worked a wet brush through her thick, dark hair and groaned about her dinner date with Claire. For Rayna, time with her husband was so precious that it was hard to give one of those nights away. Ahh, and there’s the line.
An hour later, she settled into her favorite booth at the Red and Chrome diner. It was her habit to arrive early and relax before seeing Claire. As she adjusted her white dress, the waitress appeared with a hot cinnamon latte.
“As usual—with a swirl of extra cream.”
Rayna smiled and said, “Thank you, Eliza,” and brought out her teaching notes to review.
A stranger appeared at her table. In a quivering voice the woman said, “Excuse me. Are you Rayna?”” Emerald green eyes peeked out from under a wreath of dyed red and sprayed hard ringlets. Her young cleavage crested the plunging neckline of a red blouse, and her perfect legs stretched from the hem of the black miniskirt to her graceful ankles.
“Yes, and you are?”
The intruder slid into the seat opposite Rayna and announced, “I’m having an affair with your
Rayna could not process what she knew she heard.
“We’re in love.”
Rayna ordered herself: Breathe. Think. Breathe, and shook her head to jumpstart her brain.
“When?” she asked.
“When do you meet?”
“When you’re teaching.”
Rayna thought about her husband’s teaching college classes, taking classes, and authoring books. He had little time for parenting or being her husband, but always tried to make nights together special. She inhaled the cinnamon and sipped her latte. “How long has the affair been going on?” she asked.
“What days, what times, do you meet?”
“It changes with his schedule.”
“Our class times are set, so answer me.”
The stranger rubbed her eye, smudging her smoky makeup. Her voice rose as she demanded, “What’s wrong with you? I’m sleeping with your husband and you’re acting like an accountant!”
Rayna compared her simpleness to the stranger’s glitz. Trust. I need to trust. Darian’s not going to be seduced by fake eyelashes. During a longer sip of her latte, she flushed with recent memories of Darian’s tender touches. Then she recalled their morning chats. She glared at the twenty-something woman in front of her and asked, “What do the two of you discuss?”
The woman-child’s face whitened, but she breathed color back into it and snapped, “Discuss? We have more exciting things to do than talk.”
Rayna took a moment to reflect. Could Darian be unsatisfied? Yes, anyone could. But would this woman be interested in his long musings about self-creation and multidimensional realities? Rayna steadied herself and repeated, “What do the two of you discuss?”
The young woman growled, “What’s wrong with you? Darian and I have sex: hot, funky, kinky sex, and you don’t seem to care!”
The waitress appeared. Ignoring the younger woman, she placed a fresh cup of coffee in front of her regular.
Rayna maintained eye contact with the girl and asked, “Where do you make love?”
The stranger screeched, “You’re an emotionless bitch who’s throwing Darian away!”
“Everywhere! On my kitchen table, in the shower, on the living room floor, in the back seat of your car! Are you happy now?”
Rayna remembered when she and Darian were new, and lust was their invention. Even then, my love, you lit candles and led me to the bedroom.
Rayna followed the stranger’s attention toward the wall clock and thought about Claire coming in five minutes—Claire, who believes her husband is having an affair!
The stranger drummed her long, plastic fingernails on the table. One snapped off and revealed a damaged nail beneath it.
Rayna thought, Darian would be repulsed but said nothing.
The girl’s voice pitched: “I’ve had enough. I’m leaving. You just remember when Darian sleeps with you, he’s thinking of me!” She stood and yanked on her miniskirt to cover a cute, firm butt cheek.
Rayna shook her head and said, “I don’t know if you’re being paid, or if you’re doing a bizarre favor, but tell Joe’s mistress that I’m not rattled or distracted. I will help Claire tonight, so she walks into court tomorrow and walks out with her share of their assets.”
The girl blanched and said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Give Darian my love.”
While the girl hurried past the restrooms and out the back door, Claire huffed over to the table. She wedged her heavy body into the booth. Her blue eyes were puffy, and tears had streaked her makeup. She choked back a sob and said, “Joe’s lawyer—his mistress—called to say she’s coming to my house tonight, while Joe’s there watching the children! Joe and I had a terrible argument about it. I’m such a mess. How am I going to testify tomorrow? Rayna, she’s the queen of mind games, and she’s going to take me apart on the stand.”
Rayna touched her friend’s hand and said, “Breathe, Claire, breathe. We’ll have a nice dinner. You brought a change of clothes, right? Good. Then, you’ll stay at my house. Darian will make us hot toddies. Tomorrow, we’ll go to court—together.
“Claire, about mind games, I had a visitor just before you arrived. If your lawyer can prove a connection between my visitor and Joe’s lover/lawyer, it might help you in court. For now, let’s order, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Later that night, Rayna nestled next to Darian on the couch.
“How’s Claire?” he asked.
“Asleep. Your hot toddy helped. And video games with the kids distracted her; that was your doing?”
“I hoped it would help.”
“You’re a good man, my love.”
Kissing her softly, he then murmured, “I want to deserve all that I have.”
Having no doubts, Rayna returned his kiss as softly but held him longer.