"I've got a plan," Valerie texts me one day out of the blue.
I brace myself - we've been working separately on how I'm going to address Valerie's "Children Immediately After Marriage" pact with Josh. I'm a little skeptical that she's actually got something usable but I tell her to hit me with it.
"Say you're already pregnant."
I'm glad I didn't get my hopes up.
"No, it will make perfect sense," she insists. "That way he won't bug you about getting pregnant, and it will make sense with your recent change in... behavior. And then that way, you won't have to have sex with him at all!"
"But how am I supposed to be pregnant? He hasn't had sex with-- uh, either of us in months."
"You could be three months in! Lots of women take time to show."
"But I'm not going to show."
"Hit the buffet! He won't know the difference."
I mean, I've been through this process so many times and I have to admit I haven't always coped well under pressure, but this seems especially moronic.
"That really won't work," I sigh, "He knows I've gotten my period."
"Damnit," she replied. "I didn't think he would be paying attention to that."
"Well, he is... he's very attentive."
"I know. God, I miss him. Tell him you love him as soon as you can, okay?"
"Okay. By the way, Val, I have something to tell you, I don't know if you are already aware of this..."
See, the other week, when I was laid up on the couch, I notice something hard and plastic under my ass. I dug under the cushion and found... an old flip-phone. What you might know from Breaking Bad as a "burner."
It had only one number in it and a long series of text messages cryptically saying dates and times, or the occasional "cancellation." The texts were are recent as October.
"I'm guessing it isn't yours," I told her. "And the dates frequently correspond to weekends when Josh was away."
It took her a while to respond, but when she did was, "It's probably just an old work phone. Don't worry about it."
"Val, it's still being used, and not for everyday purposes. This seems incredibly suspicious..." not clarifying that I would know suspicious behavior.
"Drop it, okay? It's none of our business."
I left the phone where it was, knowing that if Josh saw it was gone he would know I had it.
The way I see it, there are two possibilities. One is that Josh is involved in something illegal... insider trading? Drugs? I don't know.
The other possibility is that he's having an affair.
If either one is the case, I honestly don't know what to do. Do I let Val go through with the wedding, and then I'm ostensibly married to a criminal or a cheater? What if, God forbid, I get stuck here, in that situation, especially if we don't figure out a way to avoid me getting pregnant? I'm sorry, I can't leave this idly be.
I didn't want to believe it, because Josh seems a genuinely sweet, caring guy, what kind of stuff could he be involved in? But it's often people you don't expect, because they put in a lot of effort not to be suspected... and since I've been here, Josh's way of doting on me has often seemed... a bit over-the-top.
So I did something I never thought I would have to do. I called my ex-girlfriend to ask her to trail my future husband.
Pete/Brigette, who lives for "Freaky Inn Drama," by her own admission, was disappointed that I didn't call her in on this, but my reasons were obvious: Josh knows Brigette well and would know if he were being followed by her. There was a good chance that Meg would be able to just blend in and go unnoticed.
I'm lucky that Meg still cares enough about me to come all the way down from Vermont, and came up with some cover story to explain it to Justin.
So we waited for this past Friday, when the latest "Meeting" (we assume) was scheduled, for 6:30. Meg was stationed outside his work on Wall Street. When she spotted him leaving, she followed him through the subway, up to a restaurant on 49th Street. It was pricey ("Okay, I'll reimburse... but remember I pour coffee for a living!") and he was eating alone.
Then she followed him to a flower shop in China town. He went in for a while and came out with a bouquet.
Then he got in a cab and disappeared.
"You couldn't follow him?" I asked ruefully.
"Sorry Ty, the whole 'Follow That Cab' thing only works in movies," she sighed, "And in fact I don't even think it works there. I'm a Humanities Grad Student, not a spy."
Still, that was valuable info. A fucking bouquet? Before going away for the weekend? That's a giant red flag, right?
I started to get hot under the collar. I was being cheated on -- I mean, Val was being cheated on, but I felt some of it too, because it meant the affection he was giving to Val, through me, was all a lie, and... well, it is an incredibly messed up situation.
Once we lost track of Josh, Meg and Brigette and I all went out for drinks. Brig was worried about being a bit of a third wheel, but whenever you group a certain number of Inn-people together we all break the ice over our shared experiences so it's not like she was unwelcome. (Honestly, I've been so wrapped up in my own shit lately that I haven't been able to write about the friendship I've forged with her, but she's been very supportive of this "Male fiancé, no sex" situation. Maybe someday she'll bring you up to speed on her drama...)
Meg, who loves New York but doesn't get to come down very often, really felt floored to be visiting me. Time has healed a lot of the wounds between us, and partly that might be because I have spent the last year and more outwardly female... meaning, I guess, that it's easier to think of me as a different person than the one who cruelly left Meghan in early 2016.
As we sat and drank, I kept catching Meghan's eye looking me over and giving a knowing smirk. At first I thought it was judgment for wearing a low-cut top (it's really hard to button these gals all the way up) or maybe... something she approved of.
"What?" I finally asked.
"You're so different now," she said oddly approvingly.
"I only look different," I sighed, "I'm the same crummy person inside."
"You're not. You were never crummy, but take it from someone who has known you as so many different people... this body suits you. It's doing something to your personality. It's like you're... free."
"I'm not," I smiled meekly, "I'm very much in girl-jail. Fiancee-jail. Soon to be marriage-jail."
"Pregnant-jail next!" Brig cheered, unhelpfully.
"Not happening," I scolded.
"Okay, you don't think you've changed. But as long as I've known you you've always seemed like the world was on your back, and now... even with all these stresses and conflicts, the weights isn't there anymore."
"No, the weight's all on my front," I said.
"I'll say, yowza!" she said, eyeballing my chest. "I thought I had it bad as Tasha... well, I did, but you're so short, it looks different on you."
"Any excuse to talk about your tits," Brigette teased. "You don't hear me bringing up my skin color every other second."
"Fair point," I said, "How's, um... how's that working out for you by the way?"
"It's... interesting..." she said, getting a faraway look in her eye, "Most people won't say anything about it, you know, if you're just out in the world. I mean, this isn't the fifties. But if I go to a bar or a busy restaurant or even a store, and I don't see any other black people I feel very aware of it."
We noted with some interest that there were now three "black women" visible on the blog, more than in the past, but why shouldn't there be? The Inn definitely does a random enough job screwing up peoples' lives. (Then Brigette made a crack that it was surprising, since "Brothas and Sistas don't fuck with Scary-Ass Hotels in Maine," putting on a exaggerated "soul sista" voice that caused Meg and I to both insist she never, ever do that again.)
We had a few more rounds and I really put Val's alcohol tolerance to the test, calling this "My real, unofficial Bachelorette Party" since two of the only people who truly care about Tyler Blake were there (My sister Carrie and Kitty, I think, being the other two.) We stumbled home and Meg crashed in my bed and... well, it was weird.
I was lying there in bed with this woman I had loved, this person I was sure I still had unresolved feelings for no matter how hard I tried to move on, and yet... it wasn't hard to resist doing more than that. It wasn't hard to put up a barrier between us. To draw the line and say... this is someone else's girlfriend, and you are someone else's wife-to-be, and... hell, you're both woman and you're just not aligned that way anymore.
I was filled with a kind of romantic longing for what we'd had once, and yet... completely (well, mostly,) without the physical impulses that went along with that.
Hey, on the one hand I would have loved a lesbian experience... or a sexual experience of any kind that I could enjoy... on the other hand, I knew it would be wrong, that our time was passed and this was not us anymore. I suddenly realized that "that" feeling was gone, replaced by, well, true friendship.
Which, considering what I was feeling about Josh at the time, was really comforting.
I invited Meg to stay for Val's Bridal Shower the next day, but she declined, along with my invitation to come to the wedding. "Honestly, I would love to be there to support you, but I'm really not in favor of spending a whole day in the company of strangers having to lie about why I'm there."
I sneered at her, "What do you think I'm going to be doing?"
"Fair enough," she slightly reprimanded herself, "But I really don't feel like I belong. It's one thing to become friends with your ex, but to watch him walk down the aisle... in white gown, no less..."
Through gritted teeth, "You know I'm not really getting married, right?"
"I just really don't think it's a good idea." Solid points she may have had but I was disappointed. Still, it's fixing to be a real busy day for me and I wouldn't be able to make much time for her, and I know she's real sensitive about being left out like that. I promised that I wouldn't let too much time go by before we see each other again.
At the Bridal Shower, I was probably very obviously disinterested... I had a lot on my mind, my emotional state starting to really catch up on me, not just with my suspicions against Josh, but my compunctions about taking Val's place at all. Being the center of attention as her felt wrong, and I knew it would only be worse when I walk down that aisle.
Making things even more complicated was that Val was there.
We invited "Anna" down to see/"meet" her friends, and see what Marie had done for her as Maid of Honor. She looked suitably pleased, and I've gotten the impression from josh that she can be a bit... controlling? Difficult? Impossible? I try to give her the benefit of the doubt but the way he seems afraid to cross her/me, the more I wonder what exactly is so messed up with their dynamic.
It was nice to put a face to the name, though. Phyiscally, Anna is as different from Val as I could imagine. Only a little bit younger, but tall and willowy (she describes her transformation as "A boob job in reverse, plus my legs turning my nightie into a top.") She's quick to call herself less attractive, but she looks very different, with a long, thin nose, eyes that seem a little close together, and a little bit of an overbite, but I think she looks perfectly nice.
She was careful not to seem too enthusiastic about it, and coached me on how I should be responding... which is good because I was in a daze and still debating whether to tell her about the bouquet.
What I didn't know is that there's a tradition with Bridal Showers... at the very end of it, who should appear but Josh, brandishing a beautiful bouquet.
For a little while, I really was Val, melting in appreciation. I hated to lay it on thick with her standing right there, but anything less than full sicky sweet couple mode would have seemed odd.
So that was that. I'm still a little twigged about the secret phone, but the bouquet makes me think we were overreacting to the whole thing. Maybe this guy really is as good as he seems... even if my gut is still telling me different.