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SOMETHING BLUE (Chapter One)
It was one of my little brother Jeremy's pet expressions when we were kids. He used it when regaling the scuffles that would break out at the bus stop or in the halls of our junior high, his voice high and excited, his lips shiny with spittle: WHAM! POW! Total sucker punch, man! He'd then eagerly sock one fist into his other cupped palm, exceedingly pleased with himself. But that was years ago. Jeremy was a dentist now, in practice with my father, and I'm sure he hadn't witnessed, received, or rehashed a sucker punch in over a decade.
I hadn't thought of those words in just as long—until that memorable cab ride. I had just left Rachel's place and was telling my driver about my horrifying discovery.
"Wow," he said in a heavy Queens accent. "Your girlfriend really sucker punched you good, huh?"
"Yes," I cried, all but licking my wounds. "She certainly did."
Loyal, reliable Rachel, my best friend of twenty-five years, who always had my interests ahead of, or at least tied with, her own, had—WHAM! POW!—sucker punched me. Blindsided me. The surprise element of her betrayal was what burned me the most. The fact that I never saw it coming. It was as unexpected as a seeing-eye dog willfully leading his blind, trusting owner into the path of a Mack truck.
Truth be told, things weren't quite as simple as I made them out to be to my cab driver. But I didn't want him to lose sight of the main issue—the issue of what Rachel had done to me. I had made some mistakes, but I hadn't betrayed our friendship.
It was the week before what would have been my wedding day, and I had gone over to Rachel's to tell her that my wedding was called off. My fiancé, Dex, had been the first to say the difficult words—that perhaps we shouldn't get married—but I had quickly agreed because I'd been having an affair with Marcus, one of Dexter's friends. One thing had led to another, and after one particular steamy night, I had become pregnant. It was all hugely difficult to absorb, and I knew the hardest part would be confessing everything to Rachel, who, at the start of the summer, had been mildly interested in Marcus. The two had gone on a few dates, but the romance had petered out when, unbeknownst to her, my relationship with Marcus began. I felt terrible the entire time—for cheating on Dex, but even more for lying to Rachel. Still, I was ready to come clean to my best friend. I was sure that she would understand. She always did.
So I stoically arrived at Rachel's apartment on the Upper East Side.
"What's the matter?" she asked as she answered the door.
I felt a wave of comfort as I thought to myself how soothing and familiar those words were. Rachel was a maternal best friend, more maternal than my own mother. I thought of all the times my friend had asked me this question over the years: such as the time I left my father's sunroof down during a thunderstorm, or the day I got my period all over my white Guess jeans. She was always there with her "What's the matter?" followed by her "It's going to be all right," delivered in a competent tone that made me feel sure that she was right. Rachel could fix anything. Make me feel better when nobody else could. Even at that moment, when she might have felt disappointed that Marcus had chosen me over her, I was sure she'd rise to the occasion and reassure me that I had chosen the right path, that things happened for a reason, that I wasn't a villain, that I was right to follow my heart, that she completely understood, and that eventually Dex would too.
I took a deep breath and glided into her orderly studio apartment as she rattled on about the wedding, how she was at my service, ready to help with any last-minute details.
"There isn't going to be a wedding," I blurted out.
"What?" she asked. Her lips blended right in with the rest of her pale face. I watched her turn and sit on her bed. Then she asked me who called it off.
I had a flashback to high school. After a breakup, which was always a very public happening in high school, guys and girls alike would ask, "Who did it?" Everyone wanted to know who was the dumper and who the dumpee so that they could properly assign blame and dole out pity.
I said what I could never say in high school because, to be frank, I was never the dumpee. "It was mutual…. Well, technically Dexter was the one. He told me this morning that he couldn't go through with it. He doesn't think that he loves me." I rolled my eyes. At that point, I didn't believe that such a thing was possible. I thought the only reason Dex wanted out was because he could sense my growing indifference. The drifting that comes when you fall for someone else.
"You're kidding me. This is crazy. How do you feel?"
I studied my pink-striped jeweled Prada sandals and matching pink toenail polish and took a deep breath. Then I confessed that I had been having an affair with Marcus, dismissing a pang of guilt. Sure, Rachel had had a small summer crush on Marcus, but she had never slept with him, and it had been weeks since she had even kissed him. She just couldn't be that upset by the news.
"So you slept with him?" Rachel asked in a loud, strange voice. Her cheeks flushed pink—a sure sign that she was angry—but I plowed on, divulging full details, telling her how our affair had begun, how we tried to stop but couldn't overcome the crazy pull toward each other. Then I took a deep breath and told her that I was pregnant with Marcus's baby and that we planned on getting married. I braced myself for a few tears, but Rachel remained composed. She asked a few questions, which I answered honestly. Then I thanked her for not hating me, feeling incredibly relieved that despite the upheaval in my life, I still had my anchor, my best friend.
"Yeah…I don't hate you," Rachel said, sweeping a strand of hair behind her ear.
"I hope Dex takes it as well. At least as far as Marcus goes. He's going to hate him for a while. But Dex is rational. Nobody did this on purpose to hurt him. It just happened."
And then, just as I was about to ask her if she would still be my maid of honor when I married Marcus, my whole world collapsed around me. I knew that nothing would ever be the same again, nor had things ever been as I thought they were. That was the moment I saw Dexter's watch on my best friend's nightstand. An unmistakable vintage Rolex.
"Why is Dexter's watch on your nightstand?" I asked, silently praying that she would offer a logical and benign explanation.
But instead, she shrugged and stammered that she didn't know. Then she said that it was actually her watch, that she had one just like his. Which was not plausible because I had searched for months to find that watch and then bought a new crocodile band for it, making it a true original. Besides, even had it been a predictable, spanking-new Rolex Oyster Perpetual, her voice was shaking, her face even paler than usual. Rachel can do many things well, but lying isn't one of them. So I knew. I knew that my best friend in the world had committed an unspeakable act of betrayal.
The rest unfolded in slow motion. I could practically hear the sound effects that accompanied The Bionic Woman, one of my favorite shows. One of our favorite shows—I had watched every episode with Rachel. I stood up, grabbed the watch from her nightstand, flipped it over, and read the inscription aloud. "All my love, Darcy." My words felt thick and heavy in my throat as I remembered the day I had his watch engraved. I had called Rachel on my cell and asked her about the wording. "All my love" had been her suggestion.
I stared at her, waiting, but she still said nothing. Just stared at me with those big, brown eyes, her always ungroomed brows furrowed above them.
"What the fuck?" I said evenly. Then I screamed the question again as I realized that Dex was likely lurking in the apartment, hiding somewhere. I shoved past her into the bathroom, whipping open the shower curtain. Nothing. I darted forward to check the closet.
"Darcy, don't," she said, blocking the door with her back.
"Move!" I screamed. "I know he's in there!"
So she moved and I opened the door. And sure enough, there he was, crouched in the corner in his striped navy boxers. Another gift from me.
"You liar!" I shouted at him, feeling myself begin to hyperventilate. I was accustomed to drama. I thrived on drama. But not this kind. Not the kind of drama that I didn't control from the outset.
Dex stood and dressed calmly, putting one foot and then the other into his jeans, zipping defiantly. There wasn't a trace of guilt on his face. It was as if I had only accused him of stealing the covers or eating my Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream.
"You lied to me!" I shouted again, louder this time.
"You have got to be kidding me," he said, his voice low. "Fuck you, Darcy."
In all my years with Dex, he had never said this to me. Those were my words of last resort. Not his.
I tried again. "You said there was nobody else in the picture! And you're fucking my best friend!" I shouted, unsure of whom to confront first. Overwhelmed by the double betrayal.
I wanted him to say, yes, this looks bad, but there had been no fornicating. Yet no denial came my way. Instead he said, "Isn't that a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, Darce? You and Marcus, huh? Having a baby? I guess congratulations are in order."
I had nothing to say to that, so I just turned the tables right back on him and said, "I knew it all along."
This was a total lie. I never in a million years could have foreseen this moment. The shock was too much to bear. But that's the thing about the sucker punch; the sucker element hurts worse than the punch. They had socked it to me, but I wasn't going to be their fool too.
"I hate you both. I always will," I said, realizing that my words sounded weak and juvenile, like the time when I was five years old and told my father that I loved the devil more than I loved him. I wanted to shock and horrify, but he had only chuckled at my creative put-down. Dex, too, seemed merely amused by my proclamation, which enraged me to the brink of tears. I told myself that I had to escape Rachel's apartment before I started bawling. On my way to the door, I heard Dex say, "Oh, Darcy?"
I turned to face him again. "What?" I spat out, praying that he was going to say it was all a joke, a big mix-up. Maybe they were going to laugh and ask how I could think such a thing. Maybe we'd even share a group hug.
But all he said was, "May I have my watch back, please?"
I swallowed hard and then hurled the watch at him, aiming for his face. Instead it hit a wall, skittered across her hardwood floor, and stopped just short of Dexter's bare feet. My eyes lifted from the watch to Rachel's face. "And you," I said to her. "I never want to see you again. You are dead to me."
SOMETHING BLUE Copyright © 2005 by Emily Giffin