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High Infidelity


“It will work out for you too,” she promises. It doesn’t, though. The day I leave for New York, Tom has been gone for two days. “He just can’t bear to see you leave him,” Emma tells me. She’s at the house, helping me finish up, waiting for the cab to the airport. I know she’s being nice, and I hug her. “I’m going to miss you,” I say.

In New York, all I want to do is forget my past. I throw myself into my work and finish my novel. I find a shoebox studio in Chelsea, and I start seeing a man I fall in love with, a guy who wants to be with me all the time, who calls and comes over when he says he is going to. And every week I speak with Emma. “Dan has a girlfriend,” she tells me. “A bank teller in a little bunny fur.” She tells me Alex is practically living at her house, and when I ask, inevitably, if Tom had had a girlfriend, if he has one now, she sighs. “Absolutely not.”

A week later, I’m getting ready to go out with my boyfriend when the phone rings. “Why can’t you leave him alone?” a voice says. She says her name is Stella and she’s been Tom’s girlfriend for four years now. She tells me all the things I wanted—needed—to know. How she met Tom when he was buying a present for me, how they tumbled into love. And then she tells me how Emma joined them for dinner all the time, how she covered for Tom so I wouldn’t know they were a couple. I couldn’t breathe. “I have to go now,” I say.

I pick up the phone again and call Emma. Her voice when she answers is breathy. “Fuck you, you lied!” I shout. “You covered for Tom! You knew he was seeing someone else, and you never told me!” She doesn’t deny it. “He’s my brother, you’re my best friend. How could I choose whom to hurt?” “Fuck you,” I say again. And I hang up before she can explain. For weeks afterward, I let the machine take my calls, and the second I hear her voice, I delete the message.

So what happens with Emma while I am living my new life, a single young woman in the big city with a busted marriage and an ex–best friend? Emma, of course, feels terrible. I am no longer in her life, but Alex is, until one day she goes to his office, impatient about getting married, and he’s wearing a plain gold band. “Aren’t you jumping the gun?” she teases, but he looks serious. “Emma,” he says, slowly. “I married Nita, my nurse.” She jerks to her feet, her head pounding. All the colors drain from the room.

“Nothing has to change between us,” he says, but she starts throwing things in his office, books, his framed diploma. She yanks open drawers, ready to scatter them, and it’s then that she sees all the condoms, like balloons, just waiting for the next occasion.

She doesn’t eat. She doesn’t sleep. It’s Tom who tells her Alex needs to be stopped, who finds her the high-powered lawyer, and it’s the lawyer who finds out that she’s not the first patient Alex has slept with. “There’ve been lots of other women,” he tells her. “And they want to testify. But you need to use your full name now. You can’t be Jane Doe.”

Of course it makes the papers. Of course Dan, living in his little apartment, sees it. He gulps 200 Seconals and never wakes up. His parents call Emma to tell her she’s not welcome at his funeral. And the trial is about to start. Her lawyer calls me, and as soon as I hear her name, my heart slams shut like a door. He asks, “Would you be willing to testify on her behalf?”

I think of how Emma lied to me about Tom. I wasn’t just cheated on by Tom. Emma cheated me as well. “I can’t,” I say, and Emma’s story goes on without me. It’s three in the morning, and Emma’s asleep when the phone rings. She struggles for the receiver. “Yeah?” she whispers.

“Cassandra,” a voice hisses. “Cassandra—” The phone goes dead. Emma knows who Cassandra is. The poor woman in the Greek myth punished by the gods by being forced always to tell the truth and never have anyone believe her. When the phone rings again, she yanks the plug out of the wall.

The calls don’t stop. She buys a big dog, Jean-Luc, a standard poodle that she walks every day. One day, when he’s been outside in her backyard, she calls him, and when he doesn’t answer, she’s frantic. She checks the neighborhood, and an hour later, she finds him in some bushes, dead. Hysterical, she cradles him in her arms. She carries him, heavy, cold dog, all the way home, where she gently puts him in her car and drives to the vet and insists on an autopsy. The vet, when he comes out to talk to her, has a funny look on his face. “I’m sorry,” he says. “He’s been poisoned.” And even though Emma can’t prove it, she knows who did it.


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