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“Marie, love, are you home yet? It’s me, James!” Not again, Marie thought, hearing the scratchy voice of her neighbor, James, rasping through the intercom. She had just walked in, exhausted from a long day of work at the bank, and he was no relief to her stress.
She rolled her eyes at the intrusive voice of James, a rock star – or at least he thought he was, but his perception of music was obviously flawed, in her opinion – who constantly rang her bell begging for some common item that he didn’t keep in his own house. Marie knew he was at least telling the truth (she had seen his bare fridge and cupboards), so she could hardly deny him help.
She pressed a manicured finger against the intercom. “Come on in, James,” she answered. The door buzzed open, and the figure of fame personified walked through. Tight leather pants really are not for you, Marie thought. She plastered a smile on her face. “How have you been?”
“Oh, just peachy, darling,” he replied, the r in darling eliminated due to his British accent. Marie smiled – or was it grimaced? – while stifling a groan. James walked closer to her, grinning, hoping today might just be his lucky day. He was always trying to seduce Marie, and she always deflected his not-so-subtle attempts.
“What can I get for you today, James?” she asked.
“Well, love, I need some sugar, please.”
“Sure.” She turned to a cabinet to retrieve the sugar.
“No, Marie, you silly duck, not that type of sugar!” James laughed.
How droll, she thought.
“James, for the last time, it’s not going to happen. All right? And if you continue to try to get me into bed with you, I’ll tell Ben. And Ben has some very powerful friends in some very powerful places, all right?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Marie,” James lied sweetly.
“Dammit, James, you know very well what I mean!” Marie yelled, completely fed up with his seductiveness.
He staggered away from her, taken aback by the anger in her voice. He had never heard this tone from her before. It was like she was an entirely different person.
“S-sorry, love,” he stammered. “I was just fooling around, all right?”
“Whatever, James,” she said. “Just go now, will you please?”
“Very well. Have a nice day, duckie.” He saw himself to the door, which he closed quietly behind him.
Marie sank into her favorite chiffon chair, relieved of his presence, relieved that she was finally alone. But even though she was relieved, she found tears welling in her eyes. She did not get mad like this. Ever. Not even at Ben, her husband, when he came home drunk the day before their previous vacation. Marie does not get mad this way, she thought to herself. She can control herself. She is not who she used to be.
Her breathing evened out, and Marie felt herself calm down. Until, that is, the buzzer buzzed again. “James, I said no more!” she threatened, her sense of calmness evaporating instantly.
“It’s not James,” a gruff voice rasped, and Marie could tell heat was rising to her cheeks.
“Oh, I’m so sorry. Who is this then?”
“Just Beatty. I was at your bank today, Ms. Kingsley.”
Her mind flashed back to a ragged-looking man searching for a loan, which she subsequently denied.
“I’m not here to yell at you or anything,” he said as if he read her mind.
“Um, all right, then. Come on up,” she consented. Marie wondered what Beatty wanted. It was strange that she got a call from a client at home. And how had he discovered her address? Did he follow her? Was he a stalker? Surely not, she reassured herself. That man wouldn’t hurt a fly…I hope.
A knock on the door broke Marie of her train of thought, and she crossed the room to let in Beatty. “Hi there, Beatty,” she beamed, a dazzling smile once again on her face.
“Hello, Ms. Kingsley.” Marie stepped aside to let him in and waited for him to say more. He did not.
“So…what can I do for you, Beatty?” she inquired.
“I was wondering if…I could take a picture of you, please,” he responded, taking a seat on the couch.
Marie, now on her highest guard, stepped back a bit towards the kitchen area, ready to turn and run for a knife if need be. “Why?”
He turned in his seat to face her again. “I’m not sure,” he answered cautiously, scratching at his stubble, “but I feel as if…as if I know you already. From somewhere else. And I can’t quite tell where or why or when. And I figured that maybe if I had a picture of you, I could figure it out better.”
“Beatty, I’m, uh, flattered, but I don’t really think that would be very appropriate.”
Marie had no answer besides that he was scaring her. “I’m sure you don’t know me,” she said, though his face was a tad familiar. “I mean, where did you grow up?”
“Wisconsin,” he answered. “But I moved to New York six years ago.”
“Oh, well, sorry, but, um, I grew up – ”
“Hello, honey!” a third voice called while opening the apartment door. Ben was home. And he was about to see this scruffy man in khaki pants and blue shirt that looked clean but were – to a trained eye like Marie’s – very well worn. What would he think of this? She asked herself.
The door closed and Ben hung up his coat, his back to them, and then turned to notice Beatty. “How was you d – Marie, who’s this?”
“Ben, dear, this is Beatty. He’s a client of mine at the bank.”
“Well, tried to be at least,” Beatty interjected. Ben just smiled politely at the strange man sitting on his couch.
“Nice to meet you, Beady,” Ben said, extending his hand.
“Right.” The was an awkward pause. “Marie, there was a letter for you today from someone named Alexander Mayne…? Do we know him?”
Marie’s eyes flashed with panic as she realized she forgot to pick up the mail. She and Alexander – Alex, to Marie – had been corresponding over the past few months.
“No, we don’t, Ben, but I do,” Marie explained. “He’s an old friend from high school. He found me on Facebook last week, and I guess he decided to send me a letter.”
Ben failed to realize that a) Alex could have just emailed her and b) that their address was not up on Facebook. “Oh, well that’s nice, dear,” he said, walking to the fridge for water. Beatty just sat idly by. “From Fillmore High, then?”
“What’s Fillmore High?” Marie asked, slipping up.
“Fillmore High. Your high school,” Ben responded warily.
“Oh! Right, right, of course!” Marie hastily agreed, realizing that she was on the track to exposure.
“Hey, uh, Beetle, do you want anything to drink?” Ben called.
“No thank you,” Beatty answered.
“All right, well, you two play nice now. I’m going to take a shower, and then I thought we’d go out to dinner, honey?” Ben proposed, making it obvious how unwelcome Beatty actually was.
“That sounds lovely!” she concurred.
“Great!” And with a peck on the cheek, Ben walked back through the apartment to the bathroom, leaving Marie and Beatty alone once again.
Marie rubbed a hand against her forehead, relieved at her quick reprieve of Ben to regain her composure again.
“So,” Beatty began, causing Marie to jump with a start, “Alex Mayne has a computer now? Why, the last time I saw him he was stealing a watch from a Mom-and-Pop jeweler’s.”
Marie’s hands began to tremble as Beatty smiled wickedly at her. “How do you know him?” she whispered.
“The same way I know you, Lane,” he answered, satisfied that he now recognized Marie – or was it Lane?
“My name isn’t Lane!” she exclaimed, her self-composure slipping. “And you’d do well to remember that, Beatty.”
“So, what? You dumped Alex, left me and him behind in the slums of New York, moved here, changed your name, and found a husband? Lane Parker, don’t lie to me and tell me you’ve forgotten who I am. I knew you recognized me when I walked into the bank today. I could see it in your eye, and that’s when I knew too that I knew you.”
“No, Beatty,” she pleaded softly. “I’m not that girl. I’m not Lane Parker anymore. I left her behind back in the slums. I’m Marie Kingsley.”
“You’re not, though, are you, Lane? Not really. You’re not her, never really feel like her, just living a lie as her.” Marie’s eyes filled with tears. Beatty knew her secret. She, Alex, and Beatty had been accomplices, the closest thing she had ever gotten to a family back when she was just a street kid, a worthless piece of nothing just trying to survive.
“Stop, please, Beatty,” she begged. “Don’t tell Ben. Please, Beatty.”
“Why not, Lane?”
“Don’t call me that!” she hissed.
“Why shouldn’t I tell Ben that you’re not actually Marie Kingsley who went to Fillmore High School? Why shouldn’t I tell him that he married someone he doesn’t even know, who may be ruining his life, who will ruin his life when he finds out the truth? Please, feel free to explain that to me!” he challenged, his voice and temper rising.
“Because I love him!” Marie cried.
“No, you don’t. You don’t love him, Lane. If you did, you’d be honest with him. If you did, you wouldn’t feel the need to lie to him day in and day out about who you really are.”
Beatty stood up and walked near Marie, continuing his rant.“And what about Alex, huh? You just up and left him – left us both – to wonder what had ever happened to you. Lane, you broke his heart. He loved you. And when you left…well, I’d never seen Alex that bad. He was crushed, Lane. I swear, he would have married you. He would have done anything you asked, for that matter! Dammit, Lane, why’d you have to hurt him like that?”
“Get out of my house, Beatty. I swear to God, get out of my house right now,” Marie vowed.
“Why, Lane? What are you gonna do? Tell Ben that I know you? Or tell him the truth for once?” Beatty stepped closer to her, seething.
“Dammit, Beatty, I told you to get out!” she bellowed.
“No! I’m not leaving, Lane. Not until you tell me why you really left and why you’re communicating with Alex now. You do know that you’re just going to break his heart all over again, right? Because he still hasn’t gotten over you. Believe me, I know.”
“And how would you know that?” Marie asked, taking a step toward Beatty, challenging him with her stormy blue eyes.
“Because I know where he is. And it’s not whatever address on the envelopes he sends you.”
“Is that how he got my address in the first place, Beatty? Did you give it to him?”
“Yes, I did.”
Marie took a step backwards.
“Have you been following me?” she whispered.
“Does it really matter?”
“No, I suppose it doesn’t,” she murmured. “So you knew who I was when you came up here.” He nodded. “You were trying to get to me by coming to the bank today.” He nodded again. “Why? And why would you give him my address?”
“I told you: he’s still not over you. And that’s why I came to the bank. To help him out. He still loves you, Lane.”
“But I don’t love him!” she answered.
“Are you sure about that?” Beatty moved to the door, satisfied he had completed his mission for the day. He knew her; she would reevaluate her whole life thinking about Alex. She had done it countless times in the past, and it wouldn’t be any different now.
Footsteps padded down the hall; Ben was out of the shower. “Marie? Is everything okay out there? I thought I heard yelling,” he called.
“No, Ben, everything’s fine!” she yelled back. Marie heard the doorknob turn and her neck whipped back to Beatty.
He was halfway out the door when she heard him whisper, “Good-bye, Lane Parker. I’ll be back soon.”
Marie staggered backward to the couch, collapsing on it in a tumult of emotions. Tears poured down her cheeks, ruining her perfectly applied mascara, ruining her perfectly constructed life. But it’s not really perfection, is it? Marie thought.
“Hey, babe?” Ben asked, appearing from the hallway. “You almost ready?”
“Oh, yes,” she answered. Another lie. “Just give me five minutes.”
“Okay. Hey, are you okay? You crying, Marie?”
“Oh, no. Well, yes. I was just watching a sad show on TV,” she said, flourishing the remote next to the couch. “That was probably whatever yelling you heard before, anyway.”
Ben shrugged, reassured. “As long as you’re okay.”
“Yup, I’m fine!” she fibbed, wiping her smudged makeup from her cheeks. But Ben didn’t hear her; he had already disappeared back into the bedroom to finish getting ready. Alex would have stayed to make sure I was really okay. No! she chided herself. Alex isn’t here. He isn’t part of my life anymore. It’s me, and it’s Ben. And that’s it. Get him out of your head. He doesn’t belong there. Not this time. Not ever again. Ben is who you love. Ben is The One. Not Alex. Not him. Ben. Ben and only Ben. She took a deep breath, calming herself. She closed her eyes, relaxing until Ben was ready.
They left a few minutes later, as promised. Marie closed the door behind them, glancing at the glorious lie she had so carefully constructed. And her heart broke then. She knew none of it was real, not nearly as real as her life with Beatty and Alex had been. But that was then. This was now. This is what had to be real.
“Hey, you coming?” Ben interrupted her thoughts.
“Oh! Yes!” She finished locking the door, at the same time the door to her past was finally broken open. Memories flooded her mind, but she pushed them aside for now. She had a life – and a lie – to fulfill. And nobody was going to get in her way, not anymore.
“Let’s eat,” she said jovially, linking her arm through her husband’s, and together they took the elevator out to the chilly city night.
Marie did not see Alex dressed as a doorman watching them carefully before he made his way up to her apartment.