The Other Side Of Us
Oliver Garrett stared at the rolling digits on the petrol pump, willing the damn thing to finish filling his car so he could get back on the road. He had a nine o’clock appointment with an up- and-coming country and western band who looked to become regular clients - if this first recording session went well. Him being late was going to be an awesome start to their relationship - the rule was, it was okay for the talent to be late, but not the sound engineer. It was simply the way the world worked.
It was exactly like Edie to suggest they swap cars for the day and then leave him her Mini with an empty tank. It wouldn’t have even crossed her mind to check before she took off in his wagon. Just as she never seemed to notice when she used the last of the hot water or put an empty milk carton back in the fridge.
He frowned, annoyed by the whiny, resentful tone to his own thoughts. No doubt he wasn’t exactly a dream to live with, either. He left his shoes to clutter up the bedroom floor and liked to drink juice straight from the container. Sometimes he even left whiskers around the sink after he’d finished shaving. Tolerating another person’s little habit and preferences was part of marriage and getting bent out of shape about the small stuff was a sure-fire way to make himself - and Edie - miserable.
The gauge hit the thirty buck mark and he called it quits - half a tank was more than enough to get him where he needed to go. He leaned into the car to grab his wallet, but it was nowhere to be seen. He swore under his breath. Why did things - keys, passports, wallets - always go missing when time was at a premium?
He crawled into the car, checking first the floor, then under the driver and passenger seats. He found his wallet wedged between the passenger seat and the door, along with a fistful of crumpled papers and an empty chocolate bar wrapper. He pulled it all out, dumping the trash in the nearby bin before hustling inside to pay for his petrol.
He tossed his wallet onto the passenger seat when he returned to the car, his gaze gravitating to the lone piece of trash he’d missed when he dumped the rest. He reached for it impatiently, the neat-freak in him unable to leave a job half done, even though he was running late. The curse of the detail-minded.
He was about to lob the crumpled piece of paper through the open car window and into the bin when something caught his eye: a line of dark printing, visible from the wrong side of the paper.
The Annandale Motel.
He frowned. Then he smoothed the paper flat on his thigh. Sure enough, it was a receipt for a queen room for one night, along with minibar expenses. A bottle of wine, a packet of pretzels. Total $187.50.
Everything in him went very still.
The date was for Wednesday of last week. The day Edie was supposed to be giving singing lessons to one of her many private clients, then having a girl’s night out with her friends.
There had to be an explanation. Maybe the receipt had fallen out of one of her friend’s bags. Maybe -
Someone leaned on their horn behind him. He was blocking the exit. Feeling oddly disconnected from his body, he shoved the car into gear and drove out of the service station, turning into the nearest street and pulling over. He reached for the receipt, reading it again, his gut churning. Looking for proof that what he was thinking was impossible.
The last four digits of a credit card number were printed below the total. He grabbed his phone and called up his banking app. He and Edie had separate accounts, but he knew her access code, just as she knew his. His hands were shaking as he punched in the number then waited while the phone considered his request.
Finally the screen filled with data. He scrolled through until he found last Wednesday’s transactions. His hand tightened on the phone when he found a payment to The Annandale Motel for $187.50.
Not a mistake, then.
Edie was having an affair.
He felt... He didn’t know how he felt. Angry. Shocked. Disgusted. Hurt. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
He bowed his head, trying to think. Trying to get past the tight, hot feeling in his chest.
They’d been married six years. Their relationship wasn’t perfect, but this was real life, not some fairytale. Marriage was tough, and he’d signed up for the long haul because he loved Edie and because he wanted to grow old with her.
And she’d cheated on him. She’d gone to some sleazy motel and slept with some other man and then come home and lied to him.
He started the car and started driving. He knew exactly where Edie was - teaching voice to a bunch of over-privileged kids on the North Shore. Battling his way through peak hour traffic, he focussed on getting to her. He needed to talk to her. Beyond that... He had no idea.
His phone rang as he was taking the exit from the freeway and heading into Cremorne. Caller ID told him it was Rex, his business partner.
“Where are you?” Rex said the moment he took the call.
“I’m not going to make the session,” Oliver said.
Someone cut in front of him and he leaned on the horn, a surge of fury rocketing through him. He wanted to put his foot to the floor, wanted to blast past all this traffic so that he could be there, standing in front of Edie, looking into her face. So he could know for sure if this nightmare was real or some kind of messed up misunderstanding.
“What do you mean you’re not going to make it? You’re the one who roped these guys in, Ollie.”
“I think Edie’s having an affair.” The words were thick in his throat, so thick he didn’t know how he got them out.
“I found a receipt in the car, just now. I’m going to talk to her.”
Rex swore. “Mate...Do you think that’s a good idea?”
Oliver laughed. “There’s nothing else I can do.”
He had to know. Now.
“Okay. I’ll cover for you. Somehow.”
“I’ll make it up to you.”
“Don’t worry about it. And... Look after yourself, okay? Call me when you know more.”
Oliver tossed the phone onto the passenger seat and concentrated on driving. Twenty minutes later he pulled into the parking lot at Cremorne School for Girls. He could see his wagon, parked amongst the other cars. He parked the Mini and got out of the car. His legs felt strange as he made his way into the school, as though they belonged to someone else.
It was easy enough to find the music wing, and once he was inside the building he simply zig-zagged from one side of the corridor to the other, looking through the window in each door, searching for Edie’s familiar dark head.
He found her half way along the corridor, dread thudding in his gut like a bass drum as he recognised her through the door.
He watched her for a moment, aware his heart was banging against his chest, fired by adrenaline. She was demonstrating a breathing technique, one hand on her diagram, the other gesturing in the air. She was wearing slim, thigh hugging jeans tucked into tan knee-high boots and a green asymmetrical top that hinted at her spectacular cleavage. She looked beautiful and vibrant.
His wife. The liar.
He opened the door. Edie turned toward him, a confused smile curving her mouth when she saw him.
“Ollie. What are you doing here?”
“Can I have a minute?”
Her smile dropped like a rock. One hand flew to her chest. She glanced at the class.
“I won’t be a minute, girls. Go over the chorus again, and concentrate on your breathing.”
She joined him in the hall, her grey eyes wide with panic. One hand reached out to grab his jacket sleeve. “It’s not Mum, is it? God, please tell me it’s not Mum.”
Her mother, Naomi, had had a minor stroke several months ago and Edie had convinced herself it was the beginning of the end.
“She’s fine, as far as I know.” He pulled the motel receipt from his pocket and handed it to her.
She took it with a frown. Was it his imagination, or did she blanch as she read it?
It seemed to take forever for her to return her gaze to his.
“I found it in your car today,” he said.
She opened her mouth and he knew from the look on her face and in her eyes that she was about to lie. Funny that he could see it now. When it was too late.
“I checked the account,” he added.
There was a second small pause.
“Ollie. I’m so sorry.” Her hand fell to her side. Her eyes filled with tears.
“Who is he?”
“Does it matter?”
“Who. Is. He?”
She swallowed, a single tear snaking down her cheek. “I was with Nick.”
Shock was a physical thing, rocking him back on his heels.
Of all the men in her life - in their life - Nick was the last person he’d suspected. He’d been their band manager in the early days, and he and Edie had gone out for two tumultuous, tempestuous years. Nick had broken her heart and crushed her spirit and when things had finally ended Oliver had been the one to help her pick up the pieces.
Nick was the past, a face they saw occasionally at other peoples parties and barbecues. A mistake Edie had openly regretted more times than Oliver could count.
And yet she’d slept with him last Wednesday.
Edie wiped the tears from her face with her finger tips. There was something about the way she was watching him that made the tightness in his chest ratchet even tighter.
“How long?” The question came from his gut, inspired by pure, primitive instinct.
She closed her eyes, as though she couldn’t bear to look at him as she - finally - spoke the truth. “Since he and Lucy broke up. On and off.”
“Jesus.” Oliver took a step backward, blinking rapidly, struggling to get his head around what she’d just told him.
Lucy and Nick had broken up five years ago, barely six months after he and Edie had gotten back from their honeymoon.
Five years. Edie had been sleeping with her ex, screwing around behind Oliver’s back for five years.
He felt as though the world had shifted beneath his feet. Everything he thought he knew about her, and their marriage, about himself was suddenly as insubstantial as dust.
That was when it hit him - nothing was ever going to be the same again.