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High Infidelity

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Two days later, she is in a courtroom, staring straight ahead, one of six women sitting beside three lawyers in expensive suits. Tom is in the audience. She feels Alex in the room, but she doesn’t look at him. She stares straight ahead day after day, and when the other women take the stand, she closes her eyes. When they call her, she’s sweating, but her lawyers have practiced her and she knows what to say and how to say it, and that day, when she goes home, she spikes a fever of 102 and throws up all night.

Alex is found guilty, and she and the other women are awarded millions. He can’t practice anymore. He’s going to prison. Nita has left him. After the sentencing, Emma stands very straight and doesn’t look at Alex, though she feels him watching her. When she walks out of the room, for a moment, she remembers the way he had touched her naked, but she keeps walking.

She gets an unlisted phone number, but it doesn’t matter, because every time the phone rings, she still jumps. She buys a new dog, another poodle she calls Marcus, and she keeps him with her all the time. One day, he bounds away from her and races into the brush and she screams at him so harshly, he stops in his tracks. A young mother, walking with her daughter, pulls the girl closer. I’m sorry, Emma wants to scream. I’m sorry, I’m sorry.

The Greek gods always punished humans for pride. Alex gets a cancer so virulent, he’s dead in months. The day she hears, Emma begins seeing a new shrink, a woman. “When there’s a shrink involved, it’s never the patient’s fault,” the new doctor says. Later, the shrink tells her that whenever she relates Emma’s stories to the psychiatric students she teaches, the room gets very quiet.

One day, Emma notices colors again. Experimentally, she drives by the hospital where Dan spent so much time and, when she doesn’t feel sick, she pulls over by the side of the road, the motor idling, her heart racing. Continuing to where Alex had his office is harder, but she feels like this is something she has to do, and when she gets there, it’s boarded up. And then she drives to the bank and takes out some of the money and begins to spend it, and it’s the first time she can without crying.

This story begins with Emma, but it ends with me. It’s late one night and someone I loved has died and I want everyone who ever hurt me to know that this may be terrible, but I had something special: I was loved. I’m angry and desperate and flooded with grief. I call Tom, and he’s surprisingly kind. “Whatever you need, I’m here,” he says. I call Emma, and for weeks afterward, I call her every night because she lets me rant on the phone and carry on and she doesn’t ask me to listen to her life. Not yet. Not until I’m ready. And when I am, her story spills out and I’m stunned.

“Do you forgive me for not testifying?” I ask.

“Do you forgive me for not telling you the truth about Tom and his girlfriend?”

Neither of us needs to answer that.

“Will you call me again? Can I call you?” she asks. I stop a moment. We each breathe into the phone. No one’s cheating or being cheated on. Not Emma with Alex, not Tom with Stella, not Emma with me, or me with Emma. The past is past. The betrayals are over. The scabs have formed.

I hold the phone against my face. “I’ll call you tomorrow,” I say.

* All names have been changed.

From the book The Other Woman: Twenty-One Wives, Lovers, and Others Talk Openly About Sex, Deception, Love, and Betrayal, edited by Victoria Zackheim, to be published in June. © 2007 by Victoria Zackheim. Reprinted by permission of Grand Central Publishing, Inc., New York. All rights reserved.


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