Reality took longer to arrive in Olivia’s case. As she went to work on Monday she was still on a daze after her weekend with Michael. Even Ms. Rosenberg commented on her bright mood as she passed her on the school’s hallway. Even Emilia seemed to be in a good mood and had even taken to participating in Olivia’s class and taking several detours to Mr. Chapman’s math class, coming back with the many ways she would have given that particular class.
Not even when Tracy called later on Monday night to tell her she’d arrived from her honeymoon, did Olivia begin to think about the nasty consequences of her decision. Let alone to start and sort her feelings for Michael.
She had to admit though, that she had missed Tracy. But as much as Olivia had tried to concentrate on Tracy’s description of Hawaii, the beach, the volcanoes, she just couldn’t stop thinking about Michael. Her bed felt so cold and lonely without him. Tracy even had to bang her phone a few times just to bring her friend back from wherever her mind had wandered.
Unfortunately, reality began to show bits and pieces of its ugly face early Tuesday morning. It had all started with Olivia and Emilia heading for the school and finding an unusually on time Tracy outside her house, ready to drive them to work. Since she’d only come back from her honeymoon, Olivia had assumed it would take her best friend a couple of weeks before she adapted to her married rhythm before they could resume their carpooling.
Olivia tried to fill her in on the latest gossip at school, but Tracy kept dismissing the juicy information, shaking her head and asking.
“And what about you, anything new?”
Even Emilia had picked up on the insistence of Tracy’s questioning. As soon as they’d arrived to school, she let Olivia know.
“She sure is acting weird today, ha? From what I remember Tracy isn’t one to pass on juicy gossip. “Did you tell her anything about…”
No. I just don’t want to deal with the aftermath of this weekend, not today at least.
“Look, it’s not like I want to rain on your parade or anything, but you’re gonna have to sit down and figure things out. As a teacher you know that putting off work means you’ll end up working twice as hard on a paper you could’ve done with more time.”
Okay so now we’ve moved from the T.V. references, to academic ones? Next thing I know you’ll start using arithmetics to explain my life.
“Hey, no need to be so bitchy about it. Speaking of which, I have a first period class to attend to, excuse me.”
The ghost made her way through the sea of students taking out books from their lockers. If you ignored the fact that at least twice someone’s hand went through her head, Olivia could almost swear she was watching some teacher hurrying off to her next class. It made her eyes water as Olivia knew that Emilia could’ve really pulled it off and become an excellent teacher.
However, even as Emilia had been off enjoying her day at school, Olivia’s blissful cocoon had begun to crack. Tracy’s behavior became even more annoying. She would pop from nowhere into her classroom asking her for some spare markers or a spare eraser. Right after lunch, she went to Olivia’s classroom as the history teacher sat grading some papers and stood watching her, as if expecting Olivia to grow a second head at any second. Olivia’s patience had begun to wear down.
By the time Tracy was pulling outside her house from school, Olivia had come to a grim realization. She could neither continue to ignore Emilia’s advice nor could she keep evading Tracy’s long stares and subtle questions. Her best friend was very perceptive so she knew something was up with Olivia. Only that talking about what had taken place this weekend meant allowing rationality to put into perspective her actions. At the time, Olivia felt like clinging to those final joyous memories with Michael and never let go. For the first time in a long time, she didn’t want to be rational Olivia, just happy Olivia.
So, before hoping off Tracy’s car, she’d turned to her friend and suggested a girl’s evening in. Before she had even suggested the time, Tracy beat her up to it and exclaimed excitedly.
“Six o’clock. I’ll bring the food and wine.”
A few hours later, Olivia sat at her basement’s work space, reviewing her students’ papers on their visit to the Newseum. Surprisingly enough, Emilia had accepted the history teacher’s offer to listen to one of the several audiobooks Olivia had downloaded to her Ipod. With eyelids closed, Emilia lay sprawled on the couch with her feet dangling from the arm of the couch, listening intently to the narrator’s voice.
Both women would laugh out loud at the same time, as the narrator took them through the many adventures of the book’s heroine, Samantha Sweeting, in Sophie Kinsella’s The Undomestic Goddess. It had been a book Olivia had enjoyed listening to on her way to and back from work. Even if she tried to always have the newest book about history by her nightstand, this month she had two she was reading simultaneously, she enjoyed these light, uplifting stories from time to time. Not to mention the other genres she explored every month with her students for their book club sessions.
Emilia let out a grunt when the front door bell rang loudly throughout the empty house. Frowning at the time on her wrist watch, Olivia doubted it was Tracy. Aside from work, her best friend wasn’t one to arrive punctual to social events. It had been sheer wonder that she’d done so for her own wedding.
In seconds, Olivia was up and as she opened the door her mouth dropped to the floor as not only was Tracy standing outside, but she was barely able to hold the huge bags she was juggling in one hand while her other clutched a bottle of wine.
“Don’t just stand there looking silly, help.”
Olivia took one of the bags and the bottle of wine from her friend’s hands and stepped back to let her pass. Maybe she’d underestimated Tracy’s suspicious attitude and her friend was more desperate than she cared to admit, to know what was going on with her. It made Olivia uneasy.
“I brought brownies, lots and lots of brownies. Since I no longer have a wedding dress or bathing suit to fit into, I’ll take a break from dieting. I swear, I tried one of these before coming here and I literally cried.” Tracy said from the tiny kitchen. She was in the process of hunting down a plate and some wine glasses when her hand stopped midair as she heard a voice coming from the basement.
“You have company?”
From the kitchen’s entrance Olivia’s face blanked at first, then she remembered the audio book and Emilia. “No, I was just listening to an audiobook. Let me go down and turn it off.”
Once she was downstairs, Emilia was no longer sprawled on the couch but she was sitting at the edge of the couch, her face torn between wanting to listen to just one more chapter, and wanting to be upstairs with Tracy and Olivia. Still, she hid it from Olivia and pretended to not notice her as she walked over and sat next to her.
“I think that’s the first time Tracy’s ever been on time for anything in her life. She knows something is up.”
“She is your best friend.” Because she wouldn’t be caught more dead than she already was asking Olivia if she could join them upstairs, Emilia began to play with the ends of her hair. As the audiobook continued, she sneaked a quick glance at Olivia and saw her lips tugging at the sides, and Emilia felt hers mirroring the gesture.
Maybe she should’ve given books another chance while alive.
“So,” Olivia spoke over the narrator, “if you want to stay down here I’ll just close the basement door and leave you to it. Or, you could join us…”
Emilia pretended to give her two options considerable thought then shrugging her shoulders she finally said.
“I can listen to how it ends later. I might as well join you, you might chicken out and end up telling nothing to Tracy.”
“Whatever.” But Olivia noticed how Emilia’s eyes danced with glee before floating up the stairs and up to the living room to join Tracy.
“I see you already put your tree. How on earth did you haul it up all on your own? It’s huge!”
“Oh…I had help. Hey, tell me more about the honeymoon.”
Tracy studied Olivia’s flushed face and the way she was wringing her hands on her lap.
Interesting. Just what the hell happened during my absence? Tracy wondered. Well, it was time to find out. She’d been dying since last night when she’d noticed Olivia was unusually distracted.
“Oh, you know. I came to the shocking realization I was going to be having sex with the same man for the rest of my life. Thank God Hawaii was gorgeous, or I would’ve flung myself out the window.”
“I did warn you about it, though.”
“You know I never listen. So,” Tracy took a sip of her wine and grabbed a brownie. She bit into it and after swallowing and moaning in delight at the rich chocolate flavor, she began what she’d come here to do. Ask and listen.
“What went down while I was in paradise bliss?”
I guess I’d waste time putting off the inevitable.
“Yep. Come on. Spill it. It could help to have a fresh pair of ears in all this situation. Since you seem so keen on waving off my opinions, let’s hear what Tracy thinks.” The ghost eyed the plate full of brownies lustfully before taking her usual spot at the sofa next to the chimney.
“Many things have happened. I don’t exactly know where to begin.”
“Try at the beginning.” Tracy patted her friend’s hand affectionately.
“Fine. Well, so you met Michael.”
“The one with eyes only for you?”
“Ah….sure. Anyway, after your wedding ended he drove me home and….” Olivia told Tracy everything. From the embarrassing scene on the very same couch they were sitting on, to which her friend only muttered, “damn.” To Michael’s unexpected arrival at the school’s field trip and then finally to the reason her Christmas tree was decorated and what took place the rest of the weekend.
As if someone had knocked out all the wind from her, Olivia let her body rest on the back of the couch, while Tracy ogled at her, her eyes about to burst out of their sockets.
“Jesus Olivia, and here I was thinking you had stolen a kiss or two from Michael.” Then it hit her and she gathered her friend in her arms as she stroked her hair and said.
“Oh sweetie, I didn’t know you had broken up things with Noah. I mean, you could’ve called me even if I was away. I’m sorry I should’ve been here for you.”
Olivia pulled away and stared bewildered at Tracy.
From her seat, Emilia pointed out.
“This is bound to get good.”
It took Tracy two seconds to register her friend’s expression. She saw the color slowly draining from Olivia’s face until her eyes couldn’t seem to hold the tears and she let them spill along her pale cheeks.
“Oh God. Olivia…..”
And just like that, the reality she’d been avoiding since sleeping with Michael for the first time, finally showed its ugly face and jolted her awake. The searing pain and shame gushed through her like a cold wind and found release in her flowing tears. Unable to keep calm, Olivia stood up abruptly, causing the wine from her glass to slosh over the rim. She went to stand with her back to Tracy in front of her tree.
Unconcerned now by showing she truly cared for Olivia, Emilia came to stand next to her. The ghost’s supportive gesture gave Olivia the strength she needed to find her voice again.
“I don’t know what’s gotten over me. I am not like this. God, this is such a mess.”
Tracy was by her other side in a flash and pulled Olivia into a soothing embrace.
“You might as well start telling me what a bitch I am, and how could I do this to Noah. I mean the first time I thought his call had come as a warning sign that I had been about to make a stupid mistake, but this past weekend I didn’t ever think about him. I just erased him from my mind.”
“Okay, let’s just take a deep breath here. First of all, who am I to judge? If you remember correctly I dated three guys at once during college. Not saying it is okay but we are all human here.”
“Speak for yourself.”
Oblivious to a third presence in the room, Tracy continued.
“And second, I don’t think the solution here is to beat yourself up. Yeah, you made a mistake, we all do. But what you need to do is sit down and figure out why you did it. Olivia,” Tracy took her friend by the shoulders and stared at her without judgment, only with the concern a friend feels for another whose going through a confusing phase.
“I have known you since forever, and yeah, you’ve had your rebel years but in all this time, I have never known you to act like this unless there was an underlying reason for it. You are right, you are not like this, because when you do stuff it’s because there’s something strong backing it up.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.” Olivia took a step away.
“I knew it!” Emilia clapped her hands in delight. “Even Tracy knows you’re resisting into looking at your true feelings for Michael.”
“Okay, here is the deal. This has gone from a kiss outside your house and a promise that he would fight for you, to you having acted on whatever you feel for him. From where I am standing, you’re gonna have to make a decision. Michael is a really sweet guy and it’s not fair for you to treat him like this, either.”
“Oh please, you’re only siding with him because of the whole marriage thing. So are you saying it is okay for me to betray Noah like this but poor Michael shouldn’t have to have his heart broken by me? I’m sorry, but Michael knew what was the situation when he decided to jump into bed with me.” Olivia glared at both Tracy and Emilia. Fortunately, neither of them were the type to get offended that easily. While Emilia only rolled her eyes to the ceiling, Tracy took a another sip of wine and pointed at Olivia with her glass.
“This has nothing to do with it and you know it. What I think or don’t think about Noah isn’t important. All I am saying is you, too, knew how things were when you decided to sleep with Michael. Don’t put the blame on him like you did after the couch incident. I’m not saying it wasn’t fair to Noah. In fact, if and when you make a decision, either one of these two men will end up hurt. But you being intimate with Michael, only reinforced in him the certainty that you, too, feel something for him. Maybe not intentionally, but I’m sorry Olivia but you gave the guy a reason to hope.”
Anticipating Emilia’s retort, Olivia pleaded in her mind. Just don’t…..
Olivia felt drained. All of the anger that had begun to accumulate inside her vanished and left her feeling hollow and empty. There was none of the giddiness left from her weekend with Michael nor any of the dread at having her best friend appalled at her behavior. The fact that the latter never happened, made her realize that for the first time in their long friendship, Tracy was being the cool-headed and rational one.
“I have to tell Noah what happened.”
This sentence did bring the first flicker of emotion into both Emilia and Tracy as the alive one pulled her friend back to the couch and sat down.
“No!” Emilia and Tracy replied in a panic.
“You want me to just keep quiet?”
“Listen, it’s not about keeping quiet or you getting away with it. Think about it. If you make up your mind about Noah and decide that what you had with Michael was just some lust spell, you’ll be bruising one man’s feelings and ego unnecessarily. If you know it was a mistake, then just put it behind you and focus on what you had going on with Noah up to now.”
“Which was nothing.” Emilia offered, sourly.
“Or,” And Tracy recalled the wedding and how she’d never seen Olivia so happy before, “If you decide otherwise, breaking up a ten year relationship is in itself hard, I just don’t think you need to pour salt on the wound by telling Noah about Michael.”
It might be the most absurd explanation she’d ever heard, and her students had given her quite a few over the years she’d been a teacher, but Olivia hated to admit once it rolled inside her mind, Tracy’s words made total sense.
“She’s right. Don’t screw things up more than you need to.” Emilia added.
Thankful for her two friends, Olivia reached for the one she could touch and hugged her tight, while she whispered. “I missed you.”
“I know! You got into a whole lot of mess on my absence. Good thing the honeymoon was just one week.”
It brought out a teary chuckle from Olivia.
Good thing I had you Emilia, right? Silently, she added.
But Olivia stretched one of her hands and offered it to the ghost. Touched, Emilia stretched out her long fingers and skimmed them over Olivia’s open palm. It was as if some invisible breeze caressed her hand.
“Okay, enough of this mushy, teary stuff. What do you say we get moderately drunk and devour the rest of these brownies?”
“I’d say marriage seems to have brought out the smart in you.”
“Oh, sweetie, you’ve no idea.”