To Catch a Cheat: Episode #19

In episode #18, Carter rushed home, ready to finally have her way with the oh-so-sexy Kenneth, but as she and Kenneth started their sensual exploration, an unexpected guest arrived trying to keep the two apart.

In this episode, Carter finds her dealing with a father who wants her to play matchmaker, a best friend who gets asked the ultimate question–Are you in love with me, and a client who makes her come to some serious realizations about her mother.

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Thursday, April 14

It might surprise some to know that nothing happened between Kenneth and me after that. By the time I made it back to the bedroom, I was in full, hysterical crying mode, and I’m sure Kenneth couldn’t understand a word that came from my mouth. I told a truth and said my parents were getting a divorce, and I told another truth and said my mother and I didn’t always get along, but I told a lie and said the person at the door was my mother. She wanted to talk, but I made her leave, and now I felt bad and had to go after her. Could he ever forgive me?

Any other man would have been pissed. I mean, after all, we were both naked and were just mere seconds away from the best sex I could imagine. But Kenneth stood, quietly put his clothes on, and wrapped me up in a hug. He kissed my forehead and said, “Make sure your mom is okay. Call me later.”

I nodded and watched him leave. When the door shut, I fell into the bed and sobbed for a good fifteen minutes. I wasn’t sure if I were crying because I missed my chance with Kenneth, I really wanted to keep kissing Vince, or now that I mentioned my mother’s name, the idea of having sex with either Vince or Kenneth seemed dirty.

I eventually got up and showered, threw on a pair of jeans and an army green tee, then got in the car.

It was still early, before 11, and I could not sleep. I drove around and finally wound up at The Scene, a 24-hour movie theatre slash restaurant/club. There were people all over, eating and dancing, checking out a flick. Every week, there was a movie theme. The week before, slashers. This week, musicals. I bought some nachos and a drink and went in to see Singin’ in the Rain and The Sound of Music. By four in the morning, I was bouncy from caffeine, cheese, and lots of white people singing and dancing. For good measure, I sat and watched Pillow Talk before finally skipping myself out of The Scene. After watching The Sound of Music, a movie I always found sad because even though the family stayed together, they had to flee from everything they owned, I needed a movie that was pure fun and ended in a truly happily ever after way. Though I didn’t believe in happy endings, and every day my life was further away from that, it was nice to know that someone, somewhere, could have one.

|||||

After about two hours of tossing-and-turning sleep, I left to meet Dad at IHOP. He was already at a table, drinking orange juice when I arrived.

He stood and offered me a hug. He kissed my cheek and said, “You are looking a mess this morning, babygirl.”

I sat beside him and said, “Well, thanks, Dad. I needed that.”

“Well, I’m not saying anything bad or nothing. Just that you hardly ever leave the house wrinkled, and your hair ain’t combed. You just pulled it into one of them scrunchy things.”

And it was true. I came home from The Scene and fell into bed. When I woke up, I brushed my teeth, then the front of my hair and pulled it into a ponytail. I washed my face, lotioned my face, then slipped into some tennis shoes. Voila, ugly morning Carter.

“Let’s move on,” I said. “I know we’re not here to discuss my inability to look good at eight in the morning.”

“No, we’re not,” Dad said, laughing. “Oh, I ordered you the cheese, sausage, and mushroom omelet. That’s what you like, right?”

A waitress stopped and took my drink order.

“So what’s up, Dad?” I asked.

“I need you to help me with some things.”

“Like?”

“Well, your mother wants to keep the house. Why, I don’t know. She a bit old to be starting a whole new family.”

I had to grin. Though it was true, most women didn’t want to start families after the after of 50, Dad’s comment was more of a slight than a fact.

“Okay,” I said, “so you need a place to stay?”

“Yeah. A two-bedroom apartment or house. Nothing fancy.”

“I think we could find you something pretty quickly. I’ll do a search today and let you know what I find out.”

“Thanks, babygirl.”

The waitress returned with my orange juice and our breakfast. I dug into my omelet and drank from my juice.

“How’s Mother taking all this?” I asked.

“One minute she is trying hard to not show how happy she is, and the next, she crying and wanting us to forget everything she did.”

I shook my head. “Daddy, I’ll never really understand that woman.”

“That woman is your mother, Carter.”

“And that,” I said, pointing at him, “that defending her even after all she’s done to you. I don’t get it.”

“Life ain’t always black and white,” Dad stated.

“Well, here’s a black and white for you,” I began. “Mom’s been cheating on you for at least 25 of your 32 years of marriage. I can’t remember anything before I was 6, so who knows how long this has been going on. If so much of your marriage was a lie, how are you able to live in shades of gray?”

Dad placed his fork on the plate. He clasped his hands together like a steeple and closed his eyes.

“In my heart,” he said, “I know that at some point, your mother did love me and only me. I don’t know when that changed. Even now, to hear your mother tell it, I don’t think she fully knows why she did what she did. How can I condemn her 100% if I don’t know all the facts?”

I looked at my dad and I wanted nothing more than to hug him. He shouldn’t have to make sense out of Mother’s betrayals. There shouldn’t be a gray to this. She cheated for decades while my dad stayed honest and faithful to her. What was there to think about?

But I didn’t say those things. I simply placed a hand on his and said, “I understand, Daddy.”

He gave me a withering smile. “I know you don’t, baby, but thanks anyway.”

I took a few more bites of my omelet before saying, “So we know you want a new place. What’s the second thing, Dad?”

This time, the sadness in his eyes was gone. Actually, he began to blush. I chuckled and said, “Oh Lord. What?”

He looked down at his scrambled eggs and answered, “I’d like to meet a nice woman.”

I tried to hide my smirk, but I couldn’t. “Are you asking me to help you look for another woman, Dad?” I asked without laughing. I deserved an Oscar.

“It’s not like I’m getting any younger,” he said. “I’d like to meet someone I can have dinner with, go out on dates with. No more marriage. The Lord can keep that mess right there.”

I covered my mouth to keep from spitting out my orange juice. I swallowed and said, “Dad, you a trip.”

He fluttered a hand at me as if to shoo me. “Don’t make me no never mind. You think you can help me?”

I looked at my dad. He was going on 55, but with his built, full head of non-white hair, and great smile, he could easily pass for a man in his middle-to-late forties.

I nodded. “Daddy, I’d do anything for ya, so consider me your personal matchmaker.”

He chuckled. “As long as it don’t get in the way of you helping yourself.”

“Helping myself?”

“I am looking to be a grandfather some day. It would be nice if you took the time to find yourself a good man to settle down with.”

I laughed. Loud. “Oh my goodness,” I said. “You have never gone on that trip before, Dad. Where is this coming from?”

He shrugged. “I know I’m not the poster child for good marriages these days,” he began, “but I do think that everyone should have someone to love. You’re a beautiful and smart girl, Carter. You should have someone who loves you for the good, loving girl you are.”

“Thanks, Dad,” I said, smiling. “Good men are rare though.”

“Get that mess outta here,” he said. “Vince is as good as they come, and he’s been trailing behind you for years now.”

I dropped my fork. “Why does everyone keep mentioning Vince? The man is not in love with me, Daddy.”

“Did he tell you that?” Dad asked.

“No, but…”

“Then you don’t know nothing, babygirl.” Dad drank his juice, then said, “I know what a man in love looks like. You ask him straight up and see what he says.”

I stared at my dad as he continued eating. I had everything from Vince aside from an oral admission that he did not love me in that way. I didn’t know what Dad or the others saw in Vince that I just couldn’t see.

“You and Vince would make some pretty babies,” Dad said. He looked up from his plate and laughed. “Two or three grandbabies would be nice.”

Unless Vince decided to make a deposit into the Carter Devlin Needs a Baby before She Gets Too Old Sperm Fund, I wasn’t holding out hope that I would be birthing any babies no time soon.

|||||

I sat in my office at F.A.C.E. and typed up my reports for the last two cases. Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” pumped through my headphones. As I finished the last few lines of the second report, I noticed the door crack open. It was Vince. I swallowed hard. I had been at work for almost an hour and had avoided seeing him. I was hoping to get the reports printed off and placed in Vince’s box without him ever coming in contact with me.

I slipped my headphones off.

“May I come in?” he asked.

“Uh, yeah,” I said, trying to sound cool. “Come on in here, boy.”

I stood and bounded over to him. After a hug, I patted the seat in front of my desk.

“Take a load off, Mister.”

Once seated again, I asked, “So what’s going on?”

“How long have you been here?” he asked.

“About an hour, I guess.”

“You weren’t going to say hi?”

I rolled my eyes. “Now I know that’s not why you came in here, Vince.”

He stared at me for a while before saying, “I talked with Francine’s boyfriend this morning.”

“You showed him the pictures and everything?” I asked.

Vince nodded. “He was really upset. He asked Rico and me to go with him while he confronted Francine.”

“Oh man.” I rubbed my forehead. “How did that go?”

“We found her on the computer making a date with some other girl. Rico and I had to break the fight up. Francine was crying, saying that she had a problem and couldn’t stop. She left and went to her parents’ house.” Vince began tapping the desk. “For her sake, I hope she stays there.”

“I guess I was just one of the many chicks on her list,” I said, feigning sadness.

“But I’m guessing you were on the top of her list,” he said.

We laughed. As soon as the laughter ended, silence ensued.

I watched his fingers tapping the desk, and then I looked at him. He was staring right at me.

“No,” I whispered.

He stopped tapping. “No what?”

I bucked my eyes at him. “I didn’t…you know.”

The bastard smiled. I wanted to leap over the desk and smack his face.

“I see that just made your freaking day,” I said.

“Why didn’t you?” he asked.

I threw my hands in the air. “Hmm, let’s see. You came and interrupted us. You kissed me. You asked me not to. You left me confused. Hell, I’m still confused.”

“Why are you confused?”

“Are you freaking for real, Vince? Just the other day you seemed relatively okay with the idea of me seeing Kenneth. I mean you didn’t throw a party or anything, but you didn’t curse me out. Now, it’s like don’t date him.

“And now everyone’s telling me you love me, and now my dad is jumping on the bandwagon, telling me how great a guy you are and that he wants to see some grandbabies from us.”

Vince fell out laughing. “What? Your dad said that? He is too funny.”

“Yeah, he would be funny if he wasn’t dead serious.”

“Mr. Devlin wants you to be happy,” Vince said as he picked up a pen and began doodling on my notepad.

“Hey,” I said, snapping my fingers. “Now is not the time for drawing. Look at me.”

Vince gave me his undivided attention.

I took a breath and asked, “Do you love me, Vince?”

He smiled and said, “Yes, I do, Carter. You know that.”

Yes, I did, which is why I asked it first. It was a preliminary question. He was my best friend, so of course he loved me.

I had to stand and place my hands against the desk to prepare myself for the next question. If he said no, then I was already standing, and I could easily flee from the room.

If he said yes, then I was already standing, and I could rush to him, snatch him up close and say, If you’re lying, I will kill you.

“Okay, well answer me this,” I began.

“Shoot.” He leaned back in the chair and crossed his arms.

“Are you in love with me?”

The phone rang, and Vince laughed.

“No, no, no,” I said. “This is not funny.” He tried to stand, and I said, “Stay your ass right there, Vince.”

I grabbed up the phone, “Yes?” It was my mother. “Mother, this really isn’t a good time.” I listened as I watched Vince continue to doodle. “Yes, I did tell Daddy that I would help him find a place. Yes, and find a woman, too.”

Vince stood, waved to me, and quickly left my office.

“No,” I said as the door shut. “Shit. No, Mother, that was not directed at you.”

I dropped to my seat and placed my head on the desk. “Mother, Dad is trying to move on. You should be happy that he’s taking it as well as he is, considering all the damage you’ve done.”

The phone beeped, and I told Mother to hold on.

“Hey Suzie,” I answered. “Vera’s here? Okay. Send her down, thanks.” I clicked over and said, “Mother, I gotta go. I’m about to begin a counseling session.”

“So when are you going to help me, Carter?” she whined.

“I’m the kid, Ma. Help yourself. Talk to you later.”

I hung up the phone and piled Vera’s folder onto of my pad and moved over to the chair and loveseat.

I was shaking. Every nerve inside of me was shaking. I needed to go find Vince, ask my question again, and demand an answer. Instead, I received a knock on the door.

My hands gripped the arms of the chair to steady their shaking, and I called out, “Come in.”

Vera, dressed in khaki skirt and a white button-down shirt, walked in and came toward me. I stood and shook her hand before offering her a seat.

“It’s nice to see you, Vera,” I said. “How has your week gone?”

She shrugged and began wringing her hands. “It’s been okay,” she said. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said.”

“I remember that I asked you want you really wanted to do. What was in your gut.”

She nodded.

“Have any answers yet?”

Vera looked at me and the insecurity in her eyes vanished. In its place was a shining.

“I want to go to college,” she said simply.

I dropped the folder on the floor, and papers scattered. The last thing I had expected. I am leaving my husband; yes, I expected that. I’m going to stay and live a miserable life; yep, expected that, too. College: not so much.

Vera knelt and helped me pick up the papers.

I looked at her and asked, “Where did this come from?”

Once seated again, Vera answered, “I was just about to go to college when I met Ronald. We began dating, and I stopped thinking about college. He made good money, and he liked spending it on me.”

“Okay,” I said.

“Well, when thoughts of college crept up again, Ronald wanted to have a child. I didn’t, but wouldn’t you know it, I got pregnant.”

“But I thought you didn’t have children,” I said.

Vera’s bottom lip trembled. “I don’t. I lost the baby and became really depressed. Ronald and I married just before the miscarriage, and we just stayed together. We never had or tried to have other children. I guess because I stopped thinking of going to school and doing something with my life.”

I watched Vera reach over to the coffee table and pick up the box of tissues. She wiped her eyes and blew her nose. I didn’t want to be moved by Vera’s words, but somewhere inside me, I cried.

I saw Vera’s mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear her for the weeping inside me. Somewhere in the world, right in my office perhaps, there was someone who cheated who might have been a good person once; who might be a good person still.

I jumped when Vera shook my knee.

“Dr. Devlin,” she said, “are you okay?”

I nodded. “Um, yes,” I said. “Yes, I’m fine. I’m sorry. Please sit down.”

I sat back in my chair and grabbed the pad from the side table. Absentmindedly, I flipped to a blank page and began to write.

“Tell me, Vera,” I said, “was this your first time cheating on Ronald?”

She pressed the palm of her left hand against her chest as if trying to push air inside her.

“Yes,” she answered, “I swear. I was just so tired and so lonely. I mean I’m 40, Dr. Devlin. I’m still young. I could go to school. I could still be something. It’s not too late.”

It wasn’t, I thought. “Why did you cheat on Ronald?”

“He’s used to me being home, taking care of things, taking care of him. When he told me, for like the tenth time that I shouldn’t go to school, I had a good life, I just lost it. I just thought, I hate him. I hate him ‘cause he’s trying to take all my life.” Vera looked at me with outstretched hands, imploring me to believe her. “I do love Ronald. At times, I remember why I was in love with him.” She blew her nose. “But how many times can you hear you can’t, or you shouldn’t, or you couldn’t before you just snap?”

She wasn’t Mother. It’s the first thing to pop into my mind. She wasn’t Mother. I knew Dad loved her. I knew Dad wouldn’t demand my mother to simply be his slave. He wanted her happy. Mother had a chance. To me, there was no excuse. But Vera, Vera, if she were true, if she wasn’t lying, then what she did was wrong, but there was some purpose behind the betrayal.

Four words kept spiraling around my brain. Talk. Listen. Relate. Understand. Had I ever talked to Mother? Had I ever actually listened to her responses, to her reasons? Had I ever tried to relate to her, as a woman and not just as my mother, a woman who hurt my dad? Had I ever tried to understand all that was my mother?

I hadn’t. But I had this woman, a woman I hardly knew. Who I had just despised mere minutes before. I may have put my Ph.D. to use in the office, but I damn sure wasn’t able to use it in my own life.

“Vera,” I said, my voice quivering, “if Ronald would compromise with you, could you truly and honestly go back to him?”

She sat up straight and clasped her hands on top of her lap.

“I think I could, Dr. Devlin,” she answered. “If he would realize that I was Vera long before I was Mrs. Tate, I think I could.”

I raised my pen to write and noticed my hand shaking. I took a breath and willed my hand to stop shaking.

“I want to help you, Vera,” I said, and meant it more than just about anything I’d ever told a client. “I think I can help you and Ronald if you both are seriously dedicated to compromising and making this marriage work.”

Vera smiled; I smiled.

“I would like for you two to come in next week together. I think if I have you two together in here, we can get to the bottom of some of these issues.”

“That would be wonderful,” Vera said. Her smile waned. Her eyes grew glossy. “I know I made myself a slut by cheating on my husband, but…”

“No,” I said, raising a hand. “You are not a slut, Vera. I do not want to hear yourself say that, okay?”

She nodded.

“You are a woman who made a big mistake,” I continued. “You are human and sometimes, humans err. There are, of course, consequences to mistakes, but we might be able to limit the consequences in your situation.”

“Whatever you can do, Dr. Devlin.”

“I’m going to schedule a session, same time next week. I’ll have our receptionist call as a reminder, and I will speak to Ronald myself this week.”

Vera stood, as did I. She shook my hand, taking a second longer before letting go.

“I’ll see you next week, Dr. Devlin,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Take care, Vera,” I said, smiling.

I watched her leave, and then I plopped back down into the seat. I held the pad and folder close to my chest.

“Breathe, girl,” I whispered to myself. “One breath in, one breath out.”

I ripped the pages from the pad used to take notes on Vera and slid them into her folder. I patted the folder and placed it on the side table. I had hope for her, and I’d never had hope for a cheater.

As I smiled, I looked at the top page of my pad and the squiggly lines and circles Vince doodled.

“What the…” I dropped the pad onto the floor, and quickly knelt beside it. Vince had used every inch of the page to make huge circles, but I still saw it on the paper. YES. It was written on the pad.

I scrambled to pick the phone up. My hands were shaking so bad that it took three attempts. I dialed Vince’s office number; he didn’t answer.

I hung up the phone and grabbed the pad to me.

Vince wrote ‘yes’. And then he left while I was on the phone with Mother. The little bastard.

I raced out my office and opened his office door just to be sure. Empty. I went to the command center and found it dark. I ran to the lobby where Suzie answered the line for F.A.C.E., “Hello, and thank you for calling F.A.C.E., Finding All Cheaters Enterprises. How may I direct your call?”

I stood at her desk; well, I bounced around her desk because I couldn’t keep still. I went to the front door. No one was there. I patted some rhythmless beat on the desk until Suzie hung up.

“What is wrong with you, Manic?” she said.

“Have you seen Vince?”

“Yeah, about three minutes ago,” Suzie answered. “Said he was leaving for today. He looked crazy.”

“Damn him,” I said.

“Why?” Suzie asked. “What’s wrong?”

I flipped the pad toward Suzie and said, “He said ‘yes’.”

Suzie looked at the pad, then at me. “Yes to what?”

I ran back down the hall, but I could hear Suzie yell, “Yes to what, Carter? Well, are we still meeting at Satisfaction tonight?”

“Yes,” I yelled before entering my office to grab my briefcase and purse. I stopped for a minute to laugh and to feel the bubbling sensation that was running through me.

He said yes.

The emotions running through me were weird. I always expected to be all euphoric when someone told me that he was in love with me. And though I felt that, too, probably down in the soles of my feet, I really felt like finding Vince and kicking his ass for just leaving me at one of the biggest moments in my life. When I found him, his ass would surely be grass.

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