Her halloween treat, p.18
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       Her Halloween Treat, p.18

         Part #1 of Men at Work series by Tiffany Reisz
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  Word for word.”

  “Yeah, I’m sorry about that. Can I come in?”

  “No, you can’t come in. How the hell did you even find me, anyway?” She could not believe he was here. Ben. Here. In the forest. On the mountain. In Oregon. He looked so out of place she would laugh if she didn’t want to cry and scream so much. He had on a suit. A business suit and a long, khaki-colored Burberry coat with a jaunty red scarf around his neck. Did he buy all that stuff just for this one trip to the Pacific Northwest? Probably, knowing him.

  “You told me you were staying at your parents’ old cabin. It’s not that hard to look up addresses and deeds online.”

  “Stalker.”

  “Jesus, Jo, we practically lived together two years. I called five times a day. You never answered any calls, any texts. I have no idea how you are, what you’re doing. You could have at least texted me back.”

  “You don’t get to tell me what I should do. Ever. I don’t even know why you’re here. I didn’t invite you.”

  “Can we not talk for five minutes?”

  Joey pulled her phone out of her back pocket, opened the alarm app and started the stopwatch.

  “Five minutes,” she said, holding up her phone to show him the quickly passing numbers. “Go.”

  “You’re in a bad mood.”

  “That’s a great way to use up four seconds of your time.”

  “Shit, fine. Okay.” He ran a hand through his perfectly coiffed black hair and looked around the porch as if seeking help or inspiration. “I don’t know where to start.”

  “You can start by telling me why you didn’t tell me you were married,” she said. “You are married, right? That was your wife? She had a wedding ring on and she called you her husband. But I admit she could have been delusional and/or hallucinating. Stranger things have happened.”

  “She is my wife, yes. I’m married, yes. I didn’t tell you because...”

  “I’m waiting.”

  “Look, Shannon and I have an open marriage. We have for a long time.”

  “Good for you both. But I don’t.”

  “You aren’t married.”

  “I don’t have an open anything,” she said. “I don’t do open relationships.”

  “I figured. That’s why I didn’t tell you. You’re not the sort of woman who’d ever date a married man even in an open marriage. That’s why I didn’t tell you.”

  “Oh, so is this a compliment or an insult? I can’t tell. Either I have too much integrity to date a married man or I’m too close-minded and vanilla to date someone in an open marriage? Which one is it?”

  “It’s neither. It’s... I don’t know. I just didn’t want to tell you. I’m married in LA. I’m not married in Hawaii. That’s my life.”

  She narrowed her eyes at him.

  “You know that’s not how marriage works, right? I mean, even if it does in your world, legally you are still married in Hawaii.”

  “That’s just the rule we came up with. Shannon has a boyfriend.”

  “Good for Shannon. More power to her. Does her boyfriend know about you?”

  “Yeah, but—”

  “So your wife has more integrity than you do. Congrats on marrying up. And you’re down to two minutes so speed it up.”

  Ben turned his back to her and for a second she thought he’d leave right then and there.

  “I’m sorry,” he said.

  “What?” She couldn’t believe she heard that right. Ben turned around and faced her again.

  “I’m sorry. I was an idiot.”

  “Yes, you were.”

  “I was...am crazy about you. Have been since I saw you. Something told me that if you knew about me and Shan, even knowing we had an open marriage, you wouldn’t want to get involved with me. So I didn’t tell you.”

  “For two years.”

  “How was I supposed to bring that up, Jo? Take you out to dinner and over dessert say, ‘By the way, I’m married but it’s okay’?”

  “You could have tried that. I would have thrown my wine in your face, probably still in the glass. But it would have been better than showing up on your doorstep and meeting the missus. She didn’t look happy to see me. You sure she knew about the open marriage?”

  “She did. But we have a rule about that sort of thing.”

  “What sort of thing?”

  “Not having our significant others over to our house.”

  “Oh, I’m sorry. Did I invade your marital sanctuary? I would never have done that had I known your rule. Or that you were married. Or that you were a walking, talking human piece of shit.”

  “Joey.”

  “Fuck you.”

  “You’re out of line.”

  “You don’t get to talk to me anymore. Go away.”

  “This isn’t like you. This isn’t the Joey I know.”

  “You aren’t the Ben I know. The Ben I know isn’t married. You are a sleazy married guy who lies to everyone so he can have all the sex he wants with all the women he wants. No one at work knew you were married. Don’t pretend you kept it a secret just from me. Don’t act like I’m the first woman you slept with without telling her you were married.”

  “I shouldn’t have come here.”

  “No, you shouldn’t have. No idea why you did.”

  “I came here to tell you I love you, that I’m sorry and that if you want me I’ll get a divorce.”

  “You’ll get a divorce.”

  “Yes. For you.”

  “You’ll get a divorce. For me.”

  “And we could get married. Maybe. Eventually. When you stop hating me.”

  Ben stepped forward. She stepped back.

  “I will never stop hating you.”

  “Jo, stop. I’m not a monster. I lied. I admit it. It was bad. Really, really bad, but I’m not the enemy.”

  “You’re bringing up marriage to me while you’re still married.”

  “Shannon and I haven’t been great together in a few years. It was one reason we agreed to the open marriage thing. Nothing is getting better, though.”

  “My heart breaks for you.”

  “You’re furious. I get it. I’ll go and you can think about it. When you’re calm, we can talk again.”

  “I am furious. And yes, you should go.”

  Ben stepped down off the porch.

  “You know...” Ben pointed his finger at her and smiled. “You wouldn’t be this angry with me if you didn’t have such strong feelings. Hate’s just the flip side of love. Think about that.”

  Joey returned the smile.

  “I’ve been fucking someone else all week. Think about that,” she said, pointing back at him.

  Ben stumbled on the bottom step.

  “You what?”

  “Since the day I got here. I’m seeing someone.”

  “I don’t believe this.” He turned his back on her but only for a second. “You’re not kidding, are you?”

  “I did dump you so why not, right?”

  “You didn’t dump me, Jo. You ran off. You got into a cab and drove off and haven’t said one word to me about breaking up with me.”

  “I think you being married means it goes without saying. Of course I broke up with you. We’re over. Forever.”

  “You should have told me,” Ben said.

  “You don’t get to tell me what I should and shouldn’t do. You have no right to judge me at all.”

  “I never once cheated on my wife. Ask her. It’s not cheating. But what you did—”

  “I didn’t cheat on you, darling,” she said with a saccharine smile. “Didn’t you know? You and I were in an open relationship. I just didn’t tell you.”

  “Oh, very funny. Hilarious.”

  “Why are you still here? Your five minutes are up.”

  “I’m going. Hope you and your rebound boy are very happy together.”

  “We are.”

  Those two words came from Chris, not Joey. Chris stepped around the house to the porc
h and looked at her.

  “Sorry, Joey,” he said. “I wasn’t eavesdropping. I just need my keys from in the cabin.”

  “Right. Of course,” she said. “Door’s unlocked.”

  Chris strode right past Ben without saying a word to him, without making eye contact, without acknowledging his existence. Ben didn’t speak, either, and she didn’t doubt why. Chris wasn’t huge but he didn’t look like the sort of man a guy in a thousand-dollar suit would want to antagonize especially when those steel-toed work boots of his made a heavy echoing sound on the steps of the porch. All that was missing was a pair of spurs to add a Wild West jingle.

  Chris went into the cabin leaving her and Ben alone again.

  “Him,” Ben said.

  “Him,” Joey said. “He’s a contractor. Old friends of ours from high school. Used to break noses for Dillon.”

  “As a hobby?”

  “Because assholes and bullies wanted to kill my brother in high school and Chris protected him.”

  “You’re threatening me with your new boyfriend.”

  “No. I’m just telling you who he is.”

  “Nice beard. The flannel’s a good touch. Very authentic. What do they call those guys—lumbersexuals?”

  “Men, Ben. They’re called ‘men.’”

  Ben stared at her, angry. She knew angry and he was angry.

  “What about work?” he asked.

  “What about it?”

  “We work together.”

  “Not much.”

  “You going to tattle on me?”

  “It crossed my mind.”

  “You know if they can me they can you, too. Takes two to tango.”

  “I’ve already been offered another job.”

  “You’re not going to take it, are you?”

  “Haven’t decided yet.”

  “You’re going to let this hang over my head, aren’t you? Just to punish me? Very mature.”

  “Let me ask you a question and you give me an honest answer,” Joey said. “Do you really think you deserve better?”

  He didn’t answer at first. She gave him credit for that.

  “No,” he finally said.

  She gave him credit for that, too.

  “You should go,” she said.

  “Yeah, I can see that. Going.”

  “Anything of yours that’s not out of my apartment by the time I get back Sunday night will go to Goodwill or the dump. Leave your key on the kitchen table.”

  He turned to walk away and did walk away. He made it halfway down the path to his car before turning back around again.

  “I did love you, you know. I do love you,” Ben said.

  “Then you should have been honest with me.”

  “Is your new boy honest with you?”

  “Too honest,” she said.

  “Goddamn, you’re hard to please, aren’t you?”

  “I have high standards. Getting higher all the time.”

  “Well, good luck finding your Mr. Right. Tell your new boyfriend good luck. He’ll need it.”

  With that parting shot, Ben walked away and didn’t turn back. He got into his rental car and drove away. For a minute or two she heard the sound of his wheels on the gravel getting fainter and fainter. Not that long ago she would have cried when Ben told her, Goodbye, see you in a couple weeks, love you, be good, baby, I’ll be back soon...

  They’d had so many farewells and reunions dating him had been like riding a roller coaster. Every goodbye a stomach-churning dip. Every reunion a heart-pounding high. They’d never had a real stable and solid relationship, did they? She knew that now. Just one honeymoon after the other. She knew she was over him not because the anger was all gone—it wasn’t—but because she didn’t cry as he left, and she knew she’d never cry for him again. He wasn’t worth her tears. He wasn’t worth her time. Maybe he wasn’t even worth punishing anymore.

  “Is he gone?” Chris asked from the doorway.

  “Gone.”

  “You okay?”

  “I’m okay.”

  “Good.” He shut the door behind him. “I’ll go, too. I’ll...”

  Joey tensed, scared of what he would say, scared of what she should say but didn’t have the words yet.

  “Wedding’s on Saturday. Do you still want to go with me?”

  “I can’t be Sam without Farmer Ted, can I?” she asked.

  Chris smiled but it wasn’t a happy smile, not at all.

  “I’ll see you at the wedding, then? Or should I pick you up?”

  She wanted him to pick her up. She wanted everything to go back to normal between them for her last couple of days in Oregon before heading back to Hawaii. Why did it have to change? It had been so good. They’d had dinner with her parents two nights ago—her and Chris and Dillon and Oscar and Mom and Dad and...it had been perfect. Like old times but better because no one was scared for Dillon anymore. Mom and Dad had even behaved themselves and not brought up her breakup with Ben at dinner. Joey had seen knowing smiles between her and Dad as if they were saying, “Hmm...looks like somebody is getting a little help getting over her boyfriend...” The whole time Chris’s knee pressed against hers and his hand squeezed her hand between courses. She’d felt like she and Chris were a real couple that night, as much of a couple as Dillon and Oscar, who were getting married in a few days, and her parents, who’d been married thirty years. Chris fit right into the family. Her mom had even kissed both his cheeks and her dad had hugged him. Dad did not hug other men unless they were his own father or his son. Or Chris, apparently, who her father treated like a son. Oh, God, Mom and Dad were probably planning their wedding already. Dillon was getting married. Her turn next, right?

  “Jo?”

  “Sorry,” she said. “Got lost in thought.”

  “You had a rough day. It’s okay. I’ll just meet you at the wedding. I’ll be the dork in the bright pink Oxford shirt.”

  “Don’t forget to tie a red jacket around your waist.”

  “Right.” He started down the porch steps, heading to his truck parked behind the cabin. She didn’t want him to go but she didn’t know what to say to him if he stayed.

  “And you have to carry my polka-dot underwear in your pocket.”

  Chris pulled something out of his back pocket. A pair of her panties, which he spun on his finger as he walked to his truck. Joey laughed. How could she not laugh with her underwear twirling in the wind? Chris stuffed them back into his pocket, got in his truck and drove away. For the second time in ten minutes she
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