“And you believed him?” Mike sounded as though he thought she were the dumbest person in the world.
“How the hell was I to know that he wasn’t telling me the truth?” she fairly shouted at him. “He’d been to bed with lots of women; I’d been to bed with him and only him. What was I supposed to do, get a second opinion? Was I supposed to go to a bar or somewhere, pick up a man, go to bed with him, and find out whether I was actually bad in bed or not? Let me tell you something, Mr. Confidence, when you believe you’re not desirable to men, you bloody well aren’t desirable.”
It was later, after the extraordinary success of Mike’s very special lesson, that he asked her more questions about her ex-husband. Now, rather like boxers resting between rounds, Samantha snuggled her cheek on Mike’s bare chest.
“You want to tell me about your ex-husband?” he asked.
“What does that mean?”
“It means that I’ve never yet met a woman who could resist telling anyone who’d listen what a jerk her ex-boyfriend or ex-husband was.”
Lifting her head, Sam glared at him, but he pushed her head back down. For a moment her pride and her wish to talk warred with one another. She didn’t want to tell him about her marriage or her divorce because they both made her feel like a failure, but at the same time she’d like to tell someone the truth—not the sugar-coated version she’d told her father, but the truth. Spilling her guts won out over pride.
“The first two years my marriage was all right, I guess. We never had any great passionate affair, but we learned to adjust to each other. Richard had a partnership with two other men in a CPA firm, and I worked at ComputerLand.
“Everything was fine, I thought, but one day he came home and told me he was profoundly unhappy. Profoundly. Not very unhappy or extraordinarily unhappy but profoundly unhappy. He went on to say that the reason he was unhappy was because he had always wanted to write the Great American Novel, and he knew he wasn’t going to get to because he had to spend all his time earning a living.”
She shook her head. “I was shocked. It was the first time I’d heard of this great ambition of his, and I felt guilty because I’d lived with the man for two whole years and had no idea he wanted to do anything except calculate people’s taxes. We sat up all that night and talked.”
Pausing, she thought about that night. “I think that night was the closest we ever were before or at any time afterward. We made a bargain that night that for one year I was to support the two of us while he devoted his time to writing. Part of the bargain was that he was to take care of the house since I’d be holding down two jobs.”
She couldn’t seem to keep her anger from rising. “I don’t know what happened. It started out all right, but then I’d come home from work and the kitchen would still be a mess from breakfast, so I’d clean it up before going to my evening job at the spa, then the laundry would pile up so I’d wash it on Sunday. By the end of a year I was doing everything—housework, earning the living, everything. But I didn’t mind because every Sunday afternoon Richard would read me descriptive passages from the marvelous book he was constantly working on. He’d never tell me the plot, he’d just read me those elegant, isolated paragraphs.”
She had to take a breath before going on. “We used to talk about what we were going to buy and where we were going to go when he received his multimillion-dollar advance for the book. Planning our future helped make me feel less tired so that I didn’t mind doi
ng housework and earning the living.”
As Mike stroked her hair, she realized that the time with Richard was beginning to fade in her mind. “But the agreed-upon year turned into eighteen months, then into two years, and by the end of two years I was so tired I’m not sure I was even alive.”
Mike felt her body tense as she continued speaking. “But then one day I was at the store and received a call from my father’s neighbor.”
Mike didn’t say anything, but he had been with Dave then. He was the one who had persuaded Dave to allow the neighbor to call Sam.
“The neighbor told me my father was dying, and when I heard, I just wanted to go home to Richard and have him hold me.” She gave a little snort of derision. “When I heard the news of my father’s impending death, I thought I’d reached my breaking point.
“Anyway, when I got home Richard wasn’t there. I must have been a little frantic because I began searching through his desk looking for something that might tell me where he’d gone. When that turned up nothing, I went to his bookshelves. Looking back on it, I think Richard must have thought I wouldn’t dare look at his books because he hadn’t gone to a lot of trouble to hide his conspiracy. The books had markers in them and passages highlighted. One by one I read all the passages he’d read to me during the Sunday afternoons. Not one of them had been written by him, all of them were by other writers.”
She took a breath. “By the time I figured out that he hadn’t been writing, I wanted to know what he had been doing for those two years, so I looked at his computer. One of the first things he’d asked me to do when I’d set it up for him was to show him how to encode his files so a person had to know a password to read them. It took me only seven words to find his password—the name of a dog he’d had when he was a boy—and I looked to see what he’d been writing.”
She took a while before going on, and Mike didn’t say a word, just waited patiently for her to continue. “On the screen was a detailed diary of his sexual liaisons with the woman who used to be his secretary. To this day, Mike, I don’t understand why he chose her over me. I don’t want to sound vain, but I’m better looking than she is and a great deal more intelligent, and I have a sense of humor whereas she has none. I still don’t understand it. I tried very, very hard to please Richard. I tried to give him whatever he wanted. Where did I fail?”
“When did he give you the sex manuals to read?”
“Oh, that. I put my foot in my mouth. After we’d been married a few months, we went to see a movie—I don’t remember what it was—but afterward I thoughtlessly said that I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about, as sex was so boring. Richard said that maybe our sex lives wouldn’t be so boring if I just knew a little about sex.”
“And how did you do at your jobs? Successful?”
She smiled. “Yes. I was always being promoted at ComputerLand, and at the spa they had me teach the instructors.”
“And how was Richard’s CPA business?”
“I see what you’re getting at. He did all right for a while, but then he lost some clients and I think his partners were planning to get rid of him.”
“Sounds to me like you terrified him.”