Many times in my life I have wished that I had the creativity and skills to write a book. Specifically a children’s book. Or a fun book. That’s never happened. I’m a “science person” so writing a text book would probably actually be much easier for me. I write reflectively somewhat regularly, but never any “creative writing” aside from random poetry that pops into my head, usually when I am driving, and never ever makes it onto paper. A few weeks ago, I began receiving a daily writing prompt email. Most I ignore. But one sort of sparked my imagination. What would betrayal taste like? Hmmmm. Think about that. Would it be bitter? Or might it taste like something totally unexpected? I did my first “creative writing” since I probably had to write a short story in high school. (Does 778 words even count as a short story?) And putting it out here for anyone to read is – well a lot of things – scary being the biggest.
The Taste of Betrayal
Claire missed the signs. They were all there in plain sight. Well mostly, if she had only taken the time to see them. She just missed the elevator as she headed home for the day, its door closing silently while its occupants avoided eye contact. Deciding to splurge on a cab in honor of the occasion, she made a beeline towards the curb only to have her cab snatched away by a hurried man in a suit just as she approached. Another car sped past creating a drenching spray of rainwater and city grime. Claire found herself in a “Bridget Jones” moment. Resigned, Claire popped up her umbrella and began the thirteen block walk to her apartment, her mind on the evening ahead.
Claire met Alex over a tray of appetizers at a party eighteen months ago, their attraction immediate and mutual. The last year and a half had flown by as they got to know each other. They spent quiet nights at home, long weekends out of town, Sunday walks through the park, lazy mornings in bed with coffee and the newspaper. It didn’t matter what they did, they enjoyed doing it together. Theirs was a relationship that made their friends green with envy.
Shaking the water off her umbrella, Claire stepped into her small apartment. The gloomy fall afternoon light cast shadows over her small living room. Snapping on the vintage lamp on her end table, a great thrift store find from one of her adventures with Alex, she rifled through the mail stopping at the pink envelope. Real mail! Not email. Not a text message. Not a rushed voicemail. It was an honest, old-fashioned bit of correspondence, a birthday card from her favorite aunt. “Claire, Do something fabulous on your birthday! Much love, Aunt Martha.”
Today is Claire’s 30th birthday. A milestone in life where, according to most people, she should have found herself in a house in the suburbs, married with a fabulous career, and 2.5 children. Instead she lived in a small third-story walk up in the lower east side and worked as a receptionist for a small magazine. But she had Alex. She truly loved her job. She had possibilities.
The last month had been challenging. Alex’s corporate job often took him out of town for a few days at a time, but lately there had been even more travel, leaving a little Claire adrift. But tonight Alex would be home and things could get back to normal. Claire busied herself and changed into her favorite black dress, a fitted illusion-sleeve bodice covered with whimsical dots and a gathered-at-the-waist flared skirt. Beautiful, flirty, and classic all in one dress. At the time, it was a big Nordstrom purchase on her small, overly-stretched budget. But tonight, it seemed to perfect for the occasion: a quiet dinner with Alex at one of her favorite restaurants. Claire made a last minute check of her hair and makeup, grabbed her purse, and headed out to hail a taxi.
Arriving at the quaint bistro ahead of schedule, Claire was surprised to find Alex already there and seated at their favorite table. A bottle of untouched wine waited on the table while Alex checked messages on his phone. Catching a glimpse of Claire, Alex rose and brushed her cheek with a kiss as she settled herself into her chair. These plans made two months ago, she’d been looking forward to this all day. They chatted casually through dinner, the conversation of two people comfortable with each other: work things, crazy wet fall weather, catch-up about friends.
But it was the mention of one particular friend over desert that caused the atmosphere to shift from comfortable and casual to something else entirely. For a moment, Claire’s world shifted, a small tilt on its axis that caused her to stop, pause, and assess that tiny flip in her gut and those red flags starting to wave. Alex avoided eye contact, was clearly nervous and fidgeted with his napkin. The silence at the table uncomfortable as Alex shrugged off the waiter’s attention. Finally, after several long moments, Alex spoke and attempted to explain himself, his words coming out in a rush, Claire only catching bits of the jumble.
“I never meant for it to happen.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Please understand. . . “
And the worst words of all, “I’m in love with her.”
Claire gathered her belongings and calmly walked to the door, only rushing when she was sure he couldn’t see her. In the taxi on the way home, as tears silently rolled down her cheeks, Claire realized that, forever after, betrayal would taste like lemon cake.