To Catch a Cheat: Episode #10

In episode #9, Carter, while working as her alter ego Cassie Deckart, ran into Cynthia Stevenson, and the two clashed, but it was nothing compared to the news she received from her girls: Vince is in love with her.

In this episode, Carter runs into the one thing she can’t have, and while in a counseling session with a client she runs into the one thing she hasn’t opened herself up to have.

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Sunday, April 10

For the most part, I’m not a big churchgoer. Growing up, my family was A.M.E., but throughout my life, I’ve been to Catholic, Episcopal, and Baptist churches, too.

Most people who know me would tell you that I run to the church whenever some crisis has befallen me…usually because I caused the crisis.

When I stole pretzels off my first grade teacher’s desk and was caught, I felt so bad I went to church the following Sunday, told my sin, and everyone, including Mother was proud of me. When I got caught smoking pot in the ninth grade—sure, I got my ass beat by my parents and the school suspended me, but I went to church, cried to the Lord and somehow, I felt that He forgave me. Funny how it takes getting caught for me to get that way, but I digress. I went to church and like magic, my heart was lightened and all felt right with the world.

I figured if the Lord could offer me clarity and guidance through those situations, surely He would help me with the lust I felt for a married man and the knowledge I had of Vince being in love with me.

I dressed in a dark purple pantsuit and my purple Blahnik sizzle sandals. Mother would think I was being far too outrageous with the color and the heel of my sandals would be too high to wear to church. Must you draw attention to yourself, she would ask. I knew I wouldn’t hit up the A.M.E. today because she typically was there every Sunday, for all services.

I would go Catholic today. I always enjoyed the pomp and artistry of their services. I knew Daria and Suzie attended the cathedral, but they would never go to early mass.

|||||

I drove the VW bus into a spot and sat there watching the people go in. I stared at the statue of Jesus, His arms outstretched as if to say, Come, tell me your woes, for I will comfort you. I took in His lowered gaze, full of love and empathy and thought, I don’t want to sleep with a married man, but the temptation to do so burned in me every time I dropped my head on my pillow at night and the darkness of my bedroom swallowed me up. The night before had been the only time I hadn’t dreamt of Kenneth; Vince had the starring role and despite the Dream-Carter’s insistence that the two should remain friends, when Dream-Vince pulled his shirt off and revealed his golden hard body and six-pack, Dream-Carter wanted a drink.

I made the sign of the cross and stepped out into the brilliant light of the sun. I hurried across the street and up the marble steps. I scanned the room, looking for a seat in the front. I began to walk up the aisle when I saw Kenneth and Cynthia, with kids in tow. They sat in the fourth row, left side. I paused and someone ran into the back of me.

I twirled and said, “I’m so sorry” to the person behind me and scurried to the back of the church. I found a seat in the second to last row. I stared at the back of Kenneth’s head, then watched as Cynthia turned to the children and said something to them. She tilted her head in Kenneth’s direction, smiled, and planted a kiss to his cheek. My stomach churned, then plummeted.

It was his wife, after all. I shouldn’t have been jealous, but I kinda was.

Right after the kiss, Kenneth began coughing. Cynthia patted his back, but the coughing continued. He stood and began walking toward the back.

His head was down and his hand was to his mouth. He looked up just as he was about to pass me and stopped. His eyes grew wide and he looked from me to Cynthia, then back to me.

“Just keep going,” I muttered to myself. And he did. My stomach churned even more, and my acid reflux built and settled right in the center of my chest. I swallowed hard to keep from throwing up.

Everything will be okay, I kept mentally telling myself. So what I was fawning over a married man? So what he and his adorable family were here in the church? So what he looked like his life was over when he saw me? So what I felt like the other woman though I had done nothing, really, to prove that I was? So what I felt dirty because he walked away and didn’t at least say hi or bye?

I kept my head lowered. The next time I looked up, Kenneth was back with his family. Not once did he look back. I cried a little inside as I listened to the service. Pastor Masterson talked about quieting one’s self in order to find the truth within. He talked about how we were all so busy, running around trying to find the best of everything…and everything was always material. We never took the time to sit in our own quiet and ask ourselves what we truly needed. Ultimately, the needs we had were our wants, but we were so busy searching for the best car, house, and socialite friends that we forgot what we truly needed to keep us going on the right path.

I nodded as he spoke. He was right. I mean I had a closet full of expensive shoes. I looked down at my sandals. And though they looked damn sexy on my feet, I was unhappy. There were probably a lot of things I needed in my life, but the mass hysteria of my external world was keeping me from hearing what those needs were. I mean here I was about to bawl over a man that was never mine to begin with. I still wasn’t sure how to combat that or even if I wanted to combat it, but I knew that sooner rather than later I would have to. If I didn’t, something would come along to fuck up my world and make me have to change it.

When the service ended, I rushed out of the cathedral to keep Kenneth and his family from seeing me. In my bus, I laid my head on the steering wheel, but immediately had to open the door as a rush of nausea took over. Done, I wiped my mouth with a tissue from my purse. I sat back and closed my eyes as I tried to squelch the rolling burn in my stomach.

My cell phone rang, and I rifled through my purse and pulled it out.

“Hello,” I answered before checking the Caller ID.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” my mother screamed. She was openly sobbing, yet I felt no compassion.

“What are you talking about, Mother?” I asked.

“You know what the hell I’m talking about, Carter Syene Devlin.” She blew her nose and continued, “I know damn well that your father told you about him wanting a divorce.”

Lies were what got her where she was in the first place; I wasn’t going to add to the pile already there.

“You’re right,” I admitted. “I knew.”

“I know you knew. I wondered why he was acting all weird yesterday morning. He told you then, didn’t he?”

“Yep.”

“And you didn’t tell me?”

“Nope.”

“Why not?”

I looked at the phone for a while. “You just don’t get it, do you, Mother?” I asked.

“Get what?”

“You and I are not close. It’s bad enough I had to be your confidante all these years as you cheated on Dad. Did you really think I would tell you what he had planned? Did you?”

She stayed quiet for a few minutes, then said, “I never meant to hurt anyone.”

Her voice, so fragile, should have softened me, but I couldn’t turn to mush now.

“Mother,” I said, “the only reason you didn’t mean to hurt anyone is because you were so fucking absorbed in your own wants that you never took the time to care about anyone else’s feelings.”

I paused, and she didn’t even chastise me for cursing at her.

“All those times you came back to the car from your moments of pleasure and found me crying,” I added. “You never asked if I was okay. Dad wanted to know why you spent so much time away from home with me, and you just came up with lies like you fully believed them as truth. You were so wrapped up in your own insane world. Dad and me were never a blip on your care radar.”

“I just wanted to be happy.”

“Well, then, you should have left Dad and been happy. Maybe Dad and I could have found our own happiness without you.” I felt a lump form in my throat, and I quickly added, “I can’t talk to you right now, Mother. Bye.”

I hung up and stared out the windshield. People were piling out of the cathedral in droves, many of them smiling and hugging and shaking hands with others. Kenneth and his brood stepped from the church, and tears fell freely down my face.

He and Cynthia were walking, hand in hand as the kids flanked either side of them. There, Cynthia looked like the woman from the photos; she was the image on the video who adored her husband but lacked self-esteem. She practically clung to Kenneth as they made their way to their SUV. Kenneth opened the door for Cynthia and she kissed him. She tried to hug him and I could see him tighten in her embrace.

As they drove off, I lowered my head again and openly sobbed. I didn’t want to care for someone already attached. I didn’t want to be the girl in the car watching her lover and his wife leave from church with their kids. I didn’t want to become my mother, but I didn’t know how to not do that.

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My church experience did not provide the meditation and clarity I needed, and it definitely didn’t have me prepared for my first counseling appointment of the day.

I sat in my office for a few minutes doing breathing exercises before making me some chamomile tea. I took my cup, along with my pad, pen, and Gloria Sternback’s folder over to the coffee table that stood between my chair and the loveseat.

Seated, I sipped my tea in between whispering, “Veni, vidi, vici.”

A knock sounded at the door, and I called out, “Come in.”

Vince poked his head through a small opening. “Hey,” he said, smiling. “Got a minute?”

I smiled and answered, “Always.”

He walked in and came straight to me.

“Put down your cup,” he said.

“Um, okay,” I said slowly, doing as told.

“Stand up,” he requested.

I did that, too, but said, “I’m not going to take but so many commands, boy.”

Instead of saying anything, Vince wrapped his arms around my waist. He squeezed tightly, causing me to giggle, then released me.

“What was all that for?” I asked.

“Just missed you.”

His eyes were more green than brown today, which meant he was seriously thinking about something.

I leaned back and cocked a brow upward. “What’s going on?” I asked.

“You and I are doing a stake out tonight.”

“What?” I laughed. “We haven’t done one of those together in a while.”

“I know. A new client came in yesterday, and she wanted us to start tonight. She’s supposedly going out of town, and she thought we might be able to catch her boyfriend in the act with her best friend. I just came back from installing cameras and mics in her place.”

I had to admit that I was giddy. It had been almost four months since I had done a stake out with Vince. Because cheating and consequently, catching cheaters is such an ‘in’ thing these days, we were always busy. That usually meant we did jobs solo unless we were going UC and then being undercover, we had Rico or a contractor come in the van or the sedan to watch our backs.

“So what time are we scheduled to roll out?” I asked.

“Probably about 5:30. Rico has been tapping into the convos, and we think the boyfriend is expecting a guest some time about 6:30 tonight.”

“Cool.”

I stood there staring at Vince as he stood staring at me.

He likes me, I thought. He’s in love with me so the girls say. What did I think of that? What would it even be like to be his girlfriend and not just his friend who happened to be a girl? It had been so long since I had kissed Vince and besides, I was beyond drunk. I didn’t even know if our lips were compatible with each other. His kisses to my forehead and cheeks always made me feel loved, and our hugs always connected just right. But would our mouths fit together for soul-stirring kisses? Would our bodies connect in perfect synchronization during love making?

“What are you thinking about?” Vince asked.

“Nothing,” I answered way too quickly.

He reached out and touched my cheek, then feathered his fingers through my hair. I swallowed a sigh. Back in the day, he used to love playing in my hair while we laid back and had one of our many conversations about nothing. If I had been a puppy, it would have sent my leg to shaking. It almost did that back then anyway.

“What are you hiding from me?” he asked.

I shook my head. “Nothing. I’m fine, Mister Crazy Man. It’s just your imagination.”

I had the impulse to kiss him, but I didn’t. I wouldn’t know how to explain something like that away. Instead, I bopped his nose with an index finger and sat back down.

“Okay,” Vince said. “Want to play Little Miss Quiet, eh? That’s cool. I’ll see you later? Say here, about 4:45?”

“I’ll be here.”

He stared at me a moment longer, then said “Bye” and left.

Quiet, I thought. I needed a boat load of quiet right now. I needed to know what I was feeling and why was I feeling these things to begin with. I couldn’t get the quiet, but I did grab my pad and plop down in my cushy, leather chair.

I wrote Vince’s name across the top and made a two-column table. One side was “Pros,” and the other was “Cons.” I had placed pen on paper again when the phone rang. I picked up the cordless beside me and said, “Carter Devlin speaking.”

“Hey Carter. It’s Suzie. Gloria Sternback is here.”

“Sound her down, girl.”

I looked down at the pad and said, “I’ll deal with you later” before flipping the page over.

|||||

Gloria sat on the loveseat and dabbed at her wet eyes with a tissue as she tried to sip her tea.

I immediately befriended Gloria after her case. Nate had worked that one. Gloria had begun thinking her husband was having an affair on her. She didn’t have proof, but she sensed it in her gut. When she told Vince and Nate the story, there was a clue we picked up on, and maybe Gloria did, too, she just didn’t want to acknowledge it. Through most of their marriage, sex had been traditional missionary and slight variations of it. Nothing out of the ordinary. Within the last month or so before she contacted us, he had stopped wanting to touch or kiss her breasts, and he only wanted to have sex from the back and attempted several times to do her anally—with his dick or a vibrator. There was no, according to Gloria, discussion of these changes, or a transition into these things; he just became more aggressive and adventurous, like a completely different man.

Nate, Vince, and I initially thought Gloria’s husband might swing from both sides of the plate, and so we brought Nate in to go UC and check things out. We had plenty of footage that showed Gloria’s husband flirting with Nate though nothing sexual ever happened, but to add to this obvious hurt, we also found out that the husband was inviting men into his home while Gloria was at work. There was a huge altercation when Gloria confronted her husband with one of the guys. The husband smacked Gloria and told her that he never loved her. We have him on film packing up his shit and getting into his lover’s car. When we tried to intervene, to bring the police into the matter, she had waved us off.

“If he wants to leave,” Gloria said as tears cascaded down her face, “why would I want him?”

According to Gloria, she hadn’t seen him in the last two months, and a few weeks after the incident, she received papers from his lawyer; he was filing for divorce.

“Nate and Vince were so helpful during that time,” Gloria said. “Vince sat and talked to me for hours afterward. He just let me cry.”

Inside, I smiled. Vince couldn’t live if he wasn’t helping people.

“Thing is,” Gloria said as she placed her cup on the table, “I can’t seem to stop crying.” Each word was louder and more guttural than the last, as if it hurt her to admit she was upset and vulnerable. Gloria inched her fingers through her short, curly ‘fro.

“It’s perfectly normal to be in pain, Gloria,” I said. “You were married to this man. You loved this man. You thought you were going to be with him for forever. He lied to you and betrayed you and the sanctity of your marriage. You have every right in the world to be pissed, angry, and hurt. Those emotions evoke tears. They do not make you weak.”

“But I can’t stop being angry with myself,” Gloria said.

I sat forward and leaned toward Gloria. “Why are you angry with yourself?”

“Because I trusted him. I thought he loved me. I thought he wanted to be with me, but he’s gay. He said he never liked women. He never liked me, let alone loved me. How could I have been so damn stupid?”

I clenched my teeth and thought of my mother and dad. No, neither was gay, but I’m sure my dad wondered the same things. He had been with my mother for more than half of his life. He thought she loved him. I’m sure he thought he was stupid for loving her and stupid for staying so long.

“You listen to me,” I said, probably in a tone a bit too angry to be using on Gloria. “You did nothing wrong, do you hear me, Gloria? You loved. Simply loved. It’s what God put us here for. To love and to be loved. All indications showed he loved you. He asked you to marry him. He treated you right for years until you began noticing differences in his behavior.

“Would it have been better that you found this out earlier or if his true feelings were revealed before the marriage? Definitely because then you wouldn’t be hurt now, but the thing is that didn’t happen, so you need to not blame yourself. You can’t change the past. Don’t dwell about it, be about it. Work on how you can rebuild your heart and mind and not think that every man out there is going to lie to you.”

Gloria nodded. Wiped her eyes. Sipped her tea. She sat back and took a few, slow, deep breaths.

“I know you’re right,” she said. “I know you are.”

“But?” I asked.

“How can I ever trust another man after what Frank did? It’s one thing to cheat on me, but to cheat on me with a man? I knew absolutely nothing about my own husband. I believed him when he said he loved me. When he said I was the best thing that ever happened to him.”

I slipped my glasses off, wearing them then so that I could read what I was writing.

“I know you may not want to hear this,” I began, “but I do believe your husband, in some way, loved you. You were there for him when no one else was. Though he couldn’t tell you that he was gay and he said some mean things to you the day you confronted him, I have to believe that he had to have cared for you to ask to marry you. Whether it was the full-blown-in-love love we would want for our marriage, I don’t know.” I nearly grinded my teeth into dust with those last statements. Whenever I blinked, all I could see is Frank hitting Gloria and the stunned expression she wore as she lifted a hand to her right cheek. I had wanted to run out of the van and attack him, but Vince had forced me to stay in the van with Rico while he handled the situation. That man deserved none of these words.

But Gloria did if they were going to make her better.

“But what about trust?”

“Unfortunately, it’s going to be hard. A big trust, the trust between mates, has been broken for you, and it’s going to take a lot of work to get through them, but I’ll help you with that.” I rubbed the bridge of my nose before adding, “To me, relationships are like religion. We have to walk out on faith. We have to believe that the mate we choose and who chooses us truly loves us and wants to be with us. We have to trust that the union is supposed to be. Just like we love God and believe He is there for us, we also have to believe that our love from our mate is neverending.

“What’s important, and what people tend to forget is we also have to communicate with our mate to make sure that the union is the same for each person involved. We can’t assume that the love will always be there. We have to nurture it, communicate with it, change with it, or it dies.”

Gloria sat with her head down. Tears fell onto her jeans, making dark blue circles.

“Look at me, Gloria, please,” I said. When she did, I said, “First, you and I will work on the trust issue. I’ll give you some exercises that will help facilitate our sessions. It is my hope that through serious, hard work from you and a little bit of guidance from me, you will learn to recognize that you can be happy and fall in love again. All that other stuff I just babbled on about, relationships and communication and nurturing…that’s phase two of the counseling.”

“It wasn’t stuff,” Gloria said. She smiled. It was a small one, but it was the only one I had ever seen her do. “That was nice what you said. It’s nice to know that there are people who are still passionate about love and what you need to keep love alive. I want to feel like that some day.”

“You will. Shall I put you on the book for this time every Sunday? I know we’ve been doing whenever you could meet, but you told me that Sundays might be good from now on.”

“They are,” she said.

“Good, good. Then I will see you next week, Gloria. For this week’s exercise, I’d like for you to take out two sheets of paper. On the first sheet, I would like for you to write all the positive things you feel about love. On the second sheet, I would like for you to write all the negative things. When you come in next week, we’ll talk about your findings and go from there.”

Gloria laughed. My heart soared from the sound. “I feel like I’m in school with this homework, but I’ll do it.”

“Good deal.”

Gloria hugged me, something she had been doing since the first day I met her.

“See you next week,” she said before leaving.

When I closed the door behind her, I dropped my head onto the door and banged it a few times.

I was a freaking hypocrite. I spewed all those beautiful things out about what people needed to keep love alive, and though I thought those things were true, I wasn’t a believer in them. Hell, I never dated a guy for longer than two weeks, and I never had anyone in my life that got the ‘boyfriend’ title. I was a sorry excuse for a counselor of the ‘hurt by love’ brigade. I was on the same side of the camp as Gloria who hoped to some day believe in that crazy little thing called love.

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