“You’re a traitor!” I sang the song at the top of my lungs with my stereo in my little car blaring and crackling when the treble got too high. I didn’t care. I liked it loud. I was in a great mood and wanted to sing it out.
I swayed and tapped my fingers on the steering wheel as I sang along to the song with a catchy beat. I was probably not the target demographic at the age of twenty-six, but I didn’t care. It was my inner teenage girl that clamored to be heard on occasion.
I flipped my blinker on and took the exit off I-5 that would drop me into downtown Eugene, Oregon. I turned down the radio when the song ended. Young adults walked along the sidewalks with heavy backpacks weighing them down. The college town was where I planned to live soon. Like within weeks because I’d just been given an eviction notice by my landlord and was scrambling for somewhere to live.
I passed by Kesey Square with more college students milling about. The dress code ranged from grunge to club. I didn’t think a single one of them was sporting their natural hair color. Green, blue, and old lady white seemed to be the thing. I glanced in the rearview mirror at my own very natural auburn hair. Maybe I should dye it.
“Eyes on the road,” I reminded myself.
Food trucks were lined up with happy customers waiting for grub. I liked Eugene. It would be a nice change from Portland. Although it wasn’t all that different, maybe just a little less weird. If Portland was weird, Eugene was just odd.
Karson seemed to really like living in Eugene. Moving here was the first step down the path to our future. We’d been engaged almost a year, but it never really felt like it. We only lived about two hours apart, but our schedules were both busy and we rarely got to see each other. He was a junior professor at the University of Oregon. He kept odd hours, and with my own teaching schedule, it was like two ships passing in the night.
It was nice that we were both in the same profession. It gave us lots to talk about, even if he taught budding adults and I taught young children. I knew he loved his job and had worked hard for his career. I could teach anywhere while he had fewer opportunities. It made sense I would relocate and move in with him. He already had the house. It wasn’t big, but it was a good starter home. Playing house would be fun. And it would give us a lot more time to start planning our wedding. Things had been at a stalemate for a while.
Getting evicted might turn out to be the push we both needed. I pulled into his driveway and grabbed my purse with the key to his house safely tucked inside. My arrival was going to be a surprise. I knew he was at work. I planned on making him a nice dinner served with his favorite bottle of expensive wine and casually dropping the hint I was ready to move in with him. My plan bordered on seduction, but considering we hadn’t seen each other in a while, it shouldn’t be that hard to seduce him.
I opened the front door and was on my way to the kitchen to deposit the grocery bag when I heard a noise. I froze and strained my ears. It was music coming from down the hall. I carefully put the bag on the table. It wasn’t anything Karson would listen to. It sounded way too club-like.
“Burglar,” I whispered to myself.
I looked around for a weapon. The only thing I could see was a candlestick. That was just a little cliché, but I now understood why it was the murder weapon in so many mystery novels. I slowly made my way down the hall. The sound was coming from Karson’s bedroom. The door was open a few inches. With my body pressed against the wall, I peered through the open door.
If that was a burglar, she needed a class on proper burgling attire. I pushed open the door with my ears burning. There was only one explanation for the woman wearing nothing but satin panties with a matching bra in baby blue. She looked to be barely eighteen. Possibly early twenties.
She shrieked when she saw me and reached for a pillow to cover her nakedness. “What are you doing in here?!”
“Me? What are you doing? Why are you taking pictures of yourself in your underwear?!”
She scrambled to the other side of the bed, dragging the comforter with her. She held it in front of herself while she stared me down. “How did you get in here?” she snapped.
“With my key,” I retorted. “How did you get in here?”
“With the key Professor Harrison gave me,” she said. “He told me to come to his place and make myself comfortable until he got home. Are you the housekeeper?”
I had to put the candlestick down to keep from throwing it at the woman who looked like she could be a lingerie model. Her words were echoing through my mind but not adding up.
“I am not the housekeeper,” I said on an exhaled breath. “How do you know Professor Harrison?”
“Who are you?” she asked again.
“How do you know Karson?” I shot back.
“I took his class spring semester,” she said. “We didn’t do anything until a month ago. We happened to run into each other while we were getting coffee. We talked and flirted and now here I am. I’ve told you who I am, your turn.”
I licked my dry lips. “You’ve been seeing each other for a month?”
“Oh,” I murmured.
My heart split in two. My knees went weak. I gulped down the lump in my throat while nodding. I was trying to find words. There weren’t any.
“Who are you?” she asked more gently this time.
I smiled through tears I refused to let fall. “His fiancée,” I whispered. “I’m his fiancée.”
She slapped her hand over her mouth. “Oh no!”
I forced a smile. “Yes.”
“Oh no! I’m sorry. I had no idea. I swear, I would never mess with another woman’s man. I’m not like that. He, well, he came onto me. I know that doesn’t make it better, but it’s true. I thought he was a little old for me, but he was so charming. He never told me he had a girlfriend. Or a fiancée!”
She burst into tears. I appreciated that she was truly sorry. “Don’t cry,” I said with a loud sigh. “He’s not worth your tears. Or mine. In fact, I believe in the old adage, don’t get sad, get mad.”
She looked confused. “I’ve never heard that before.”
“I might have made it up or mixed up some sayings,” I said, waving my hand through the air. “I’m saying we should not be the ones crying. He did this.”
“I really didn’t know,” she said again.
“I believe you.”
We both stood in the room with the bed between us. My lip curled as I stared at the offending piece of furniture. He’d had sex with her in that bed. I’d had sex with him in the same bed. It all felt so skeevy.
“I’m going to get dressed,” she said.
She kept the blanket around her and backed into the adjoining bathroom. I couldn’t stand to be in the bedroom another second. I walked back to the kitchen and stared at the reusable grocery bag on the table. In a matter of minutes, my world had changed. Everything turned upside down and inside out. My fiancé, who I thought loved me, was a cheating piece of shit. My mind was spinning, replaying every conversation and text over the last month. Was he with her when I texted? Was she in his bed?
I shuddered with disgust at the thought. It was so gross. And dirty. And just eww. The girl quietly came up behind me.
“I really am sorry,” she said.
“Don’t be,” I replied. “I believe you didn’t know about me. That’s on him. But I was wondering if you would do something for me.”
“Take a selfie with me,” I said, smiling.
She looked nervous. “Uh, why?”
“Because I’m going to send the picture to Karson,” I said. “They say a picture speaks a thousand words. I think the picture of us together will be worth so much more.”
She smiled brightly. I could see why Karson had been attracted to her. She was a pretty girl. “Good idea.”
I whipped out my phone. The two of us stood together in his kitchen flipping off the camera as I took the picture. I showed it to her.
“Perfect,” she said, laughing. “I wish I could see his face when he sees it. I feel like such a damn fool. I’m so glad you walked in before I could send him one of those pictures. I’m deleting all of them.”
I quickly sent the photo to Karson. “Well, I guess that’s that,” I said. “I’m going to grab my things, assuming they’re still here.”
My phone started ringing before I even walked down the hall. I held it up to show her the screen. “It’s him.”
“Are you going to answer it?” she asked.
“Nope. I’m getting my things and I’m going home. Are you going to answer when he calls you?”
She shook her head. “No way. I hate being lied to. I really hate guys that cheat on their women. I would never do that to anyone. I had a boyfriend in high school that cheated on me with one of my so-called friends.”
“I believe you,” I said. “I do. I’m sorry you got mixed up with him.”
I walked back to the bedroom and suddenly realized I didn’t want anything there. It was tainted. Toxic. He could keep it. Karson called again. I sent it to voicemail. I took a second to text him. We’re over.
It was a very satisfying text. When I returned to the kitchen, the woman, whose name I didn’t even bother asking, had the fridge open. She looked over her shoulder when she saw me. “I brought his favorite wine,” she explained. “I’m taking it back.”
I smirked and pulled the wine I had brought from the bag. “How many women bring him wine?”
“Asshole,” she muttered. “I’m taking my cheese and crackers, too. I’m a student. I can’t afford to be supplying him with fancy cheese.”
“You should take it all,” I said, smiling through the pain clenching my heart. My phone rang again. I blocked his number. That was it. Over.
I looked at my hand with the beautiful ring and sighed. I pulled it off and tossed it on the table along with the housekey he had given me.
“Goodbye,” I said to the young woman raiding Karson’s fridge.
“Bye,” she called out. “And I’m sorry.”
I walked out of the house feeling like I had just left my heart on the kitchen table too. The two hours it took me to get to his house had been filled with vivid daydreams of our future. I had actually let myself believe we were going to be married and start a family one day. I let myself believe he was the one. The burn of betrayal made me feel nauseated.
Now, I had another two hours to think about the hurt. I wanted to be angry. Anger would feel better than the deep pain I felt. It was like a hole burning inside my chest. The more I thought about it, the worse it got. The proposal. The ring. The many times we made love. None of it was real.
“Why?” I whispered into the silent car. “Why betray me?”
It would have been so much better if he would have dumped me. I was certain the pain of being dumped would have been more manageable than the deep-rooted betrayal. I wiped the tears that were streaming down my face against my will.
I didn’t want to cry for him.