Larisa found the tiny coffee shop nearby to be quaint and homey. She enjoyed the atmosphere it gave off, not to mention the smell of coffee and cappuccinos. On the table in front of her was one of the latter, with cinnamon sprinkled on top of the milk foam. As she sat in wait for her date, sipping her drink, she gazed at the pansy sitting in a glass vase on the center of her table. She was sitting right beside a large window. It gave her a nice view of the street outside, separating her from the brisk winter air with only a pane of glass. Because of the cold it gave off, she'd kept her coat on after sitting down.
She'd only be there for a few minutes when, looking left and right, her date entered the shop. Then he made a bee-line for her table and sat down across from her.
"Jesse," she said his name with a loving warmth. Noticing the way he rubbed his upper arms, she then added, "Cold outside, huh?"
"I'll say," replied her husband's best friend, and also the other half of her guilty affair. She'd always found Jesse Waller handsome. Not attractive (nor serious) enough to marry, not by a long shot. But handsome nonetheless.
When she married Adam Keir, she thought that she was making the better decision. And perhaps she had; Adam wasn't as reckless as Jesse, and though he was a timid lover, at least the love he gave felt. But at some point, she grew bored of his shy nature. She wanted someone exciting, someone who would fulfill all of her sexual needs and fantasies without a second thought. When she thought of someone like that, the first man that came to mind was none other than Jesse Waller.
For a while, her affair with Jesse had been fun, and guilt was non-existent. What Adam didn't know wouldn't kill him, and she thought it made them all happy. Her desires were being fulfilled, Jesse could pretend he had a girlfriend, and Adam could work away the days the way he wanted to: without her pestering him for sex every other night. And then Adam's art block began . . .
It hadn't bothered her at first. Adam usually had a month or two where his creativity ran dry. But somehow, perhaps due to intuition, when October began she knew this was different. If only she'd known that it would lead to Adam's mental unwinding and growing reclusiveness, culminating in him lying on the train tracks waiting for mobile death to sweep him away. Would that knowledge have changed anything, though? She doubted it.
"How is he?" The question ejected itself from Jesse's mouth all of a sudden, with a concerned tone that didn't suit him.
"He's seeing a psychologist right now," she answered, crossing her arms over her chest. "Someone he's seen before, I think."
Jesse cocked his head to the side. "You managed to talk him into that? Last I heard, he hated those kooks with a passion."
"What else was I supposed to do? He's my husband, and he tried to kill himself yesterday."
"I'm not saying it was a bad choice. I'm just surprised that he actually gave in to the idea." Jesse put his hands up onto the table, wringing them and knocking his thumbs together. "It's not like I'm not worried about him too, you know? He's still my best friend."
The woman sighed and picked up her mug. Before taking another small sip, she said, "I know."
"I just feel . . ." Jesse let out an uneasy huff before starting his statement over again. "I feel like I'm to blame for all this."
There was a long beat of silence. If Jesse had planned to explain why he felt the way he did, then something stopped him, for he didn't say anything more. The way he wrung his slender hands made it clear to Larisa that he was anxious, but perhaps he was right to be. After all, she hadn't called him to the coffee shop for a good reason. Once she swallowed a gulp of cappuccino, she put her mug back down and cleared her throat.
"Listen, Jesse," she began in a gentle murmur. "It's been fun, uh, getting to know you better. I won't lie and say I haven't enjoyed our hook-ups. But I'm worried about Adam, and that he might start digging a little deeper and . . ."
"You think he'll find out, right?" Jesse said as she trailed off. "I know. I'm worried about that, too."
So Larisa sighed and got straight to the point. "I think we should call this whole thing off. We shouldn't see each other this way anymore." She expected Jesse to argue, but instead, he nodded. With a wistful expression, he admitted,
"It's funny: I was trying to think of how to say that to you the whole way here."
"You're not upset?"
The man shook his head. "I hope you won't be mad if I say that I've had second thoughts about this since day one."
"Because he's your best friend?"
"Yeah. I mean, I did it anyway, I guess because I thought you'd be upset if I didn't." It was Jesse's turn to sigh. "I'm a pretty terrible best friend. But I don't want to lose him, you know? I want to make it up to him somehow."
Larisa nodded, the feeling being mutual. "I'm glad that we're on the same page. We had a good run."
"Forbidden love's always the most exciting, isn't it?" Jesse asked with a bittersweet smile. "You know you shouldn't do it, but you do it anyway, and it becomes addictive. It stops mattering, whether someone you care about gets hurt because of it . . ."
"That's uncharacteristically deep of you," Larisa teased. "But I agree. It's a dangerous thing. We should get out while we can."
"Let's pretend it never happened." Jesse held out his hand for a shake, but Larisa took one look at it before shaking her head.
"No. It did happen. What we need to do is accept that fact and move past it."
"Heh, it's no wonder Adam married you. You're both so damn mature."
The two of them shared a laugh, and Larisa shook Jesse's hand. There was still a spark when they touched, but she did her best to ignore it.
If she was given the chance to go back in time, she knew she'd still marry Adam. There wasn't a single doubt about that in her mind. She'd admit that she had and always would feel lust for Jesse, but the only man she truly loved was Adam Keir, through and through.
When she arrived at Dr. Frost's office, Adam was sitting on the front step waiting for her. The amount of snow in his messy brown hair suggested that he'd been sitting there for a while, but one thing he hadn't lost was his patience. Either that or he'd zoned out, which was implied to her by the way he didn't even look up as the car pulled up in front of him. She pushed the button to lower the window and for a moment only gazed at him, waiting for him to look at something, anything. But he remained still.
"Adam," she finally said. After a moment, he raised his head. Then he stood up and approached the car. He got into the passenger seat without a word, and didn't buckle his seatbelt until he noticed Larisa's unwavering stare out of the corner of his eye. Recalling Jesse's suggestion that Adam didn't like psychologists, she decided to approach the subject of Dr. Frost first.
"How did it go?" was all she could think to ask.
"Well, he wasn't staring at the clock the whole time, so I suppose that was an improvement," was Adam's curt response.
Though she opened her mouth to ask something else, she realized that she had nothing else to ask. So, instead, she closed her mouth and started driving quietly toward home. They said nothing throughout the duration of the drive, and Larisa suddenly longed to hear her husband laugh, but didn't know how to make that happen. She felt like it would be a long time before he'd ever laugh again. It had been a rare occurrence even before this, but one that she'd always enjoyed.
Now, Adam sat still in the passenger seat, staring through the windshield at nothing. If he hadn't replied to her question, she might've thought he wasn't aware of her presence at all. She couldn't help but wonder what he was thinking about that had him so entranced. Was it something Dr. Frost had said to him, or was it something else? Or was he not thinking of anything at all, and merely lost in his own head? As his wife, she scolded herself for not knowing him better. She felt she should know exactly what was bothering him, but instead, he was an enigma to her. Maybe, she thought, he was only waiting for her to speak first. But what was there to say?
Thus the drive continued in torturous wordlessness, all the way home. She didn't look at him until she pulled up in their driveway, and when she did, she hesitated. With his head tilted down onto his right shoulder, Adam appeared to have dozed off at some point. After turning off the car's engine she was able to hear his soft yet deep, rhythmic breathing. Yes, definitely asleep.
That's right . . . He didn't sleep last night, did he?
She recalled waking up a few times in the night, not being able to sleep well out of concern for him. Each time, she'd found him the same way: wide awake, lying on his back beside her and staring up at the ceiling. She'd been too afraid to sleep soundly—afraid that he'd attempt to leave her in the night again, that he'd return to the train tracks.
As much as she wanted to let him sleep now, she knew that she couldn't leave him in the car. So she reached over and placed her hand on his shoulder, using it to gently wake him up.
"Adam? Adam, we're home."
The first thing he did upon getting inside was head up to his office. He hadn't been in there since Monday, because he was afraid of the reality that could await him. The longer he spent in there, he felt, the more he may discover about whether Evangeline was real or a mere figment of his imagination. Though he should've wanted confirmation of which was the case, he found himself terrified. The idea of Evangeline was becoming more and more like a Schrödinger's cat scenario: as long as he wasn't certain of her non-existence, he could be partially certain that she did exist.
So when he arrived at the top of the staircase and approached the door, he hesitated before opening it. He wasn't sure what he wanted to do—how he might react if Evangeline's drawings were no longer on the wall. He'd done his best not to look at where they'd been when he was in there on Monday; all of his focus then had gone into seeing if she still existed online. The answer to that had been a blatant and unwavering "no".
But I can't go on like this. I can't live with this uncertainty.
With a shaky hand, he gripped the doorknob and twisted it. He took a deep breath. Then he pushed the door open. As he stepped into his office, he kept his head turned to the hardwood floor. Part of him screamed not to look up, and instead to slink backwards out of the room, but he did his best to ignore it. Soon, he'd managed to silence it.
The drawing won't be there, he thought. It won't be there, because Dr. Frost is right. This is reality. Evangeline never existed. It was all in my head.
He drilled this into his head, making damn sure he was certain of it so that there would be no crushing disappointment upon the inevitable reveal of the artwork's disappearance. But when he looked up, he felt his heart skip a beat. When it resumed its normal rhythm, it felt as though his blood was ice cold.
Evangeline's drawing was still there, right where he'd left it.