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A Perfect Secret
He doesn't come home smelling like perfume and he never has a suspicious alibi and she never finds another woman's clothes in her house. But she knows. You could call it a woman's intuition or the inevitable, but Suzannah Buchanan knows with every one of her neurons that her husband is cheating on her.
The first thing Suzannah noticed about Charles Buchanan was that he had a brilliant smile. It was easily attainable and genuine and it made the universe shrink around her. He wasn't rich and he wasn't movie-star gorgeous and he wasn't a comedian, but he had the ability to support her and he was handsome and he made her laugh loud and often. He was intelligent and Catholic and a Democrat. After they were married and even while they were dating he wasn't afraid to tell her that he loved her or buy her a gift for no reason at all, and it seemed to her that his main motivation in life was to get her to smile. Her friends adored him, eyed her with a certain measure of jealousy that couldn't be diminished, and her parents welcomed him as one of their own. He's the best dad she's ever seen.
But Charlie isn't perfect. He lost his father at a young age, and neither time nor wisdom can ever truly heal a wound that deep. Sometimes he becomes distant without warning, and stays that way for days. He can't cook and he has an intense love for science fiction. His hair is going gray and once in a while he lets the stubble grow on his chin. His taste in music is too modern for her liking, and he pulls for the Yankees. But these are flaws she can understand, faults that she is able to see as endearing because they are the man she loves. And she loves him desperately, with her whole heart. His smile is still as dashing and beautiful as it was seven years ago. He's perfect to her.
The cheating, she knows, has been going on for nearly half of their marriage. When it first started, she dismissed the notion with valid mental assurances that it was impossible, he would never do that to her, to their child. Danny was the most important thing in his world, she argued to the mirror. But years passed and the doubts multiplied. It became more and more difficult to exorcize her growing paranoia. Her fears were starting to make rational sense and eventually she was simply forced to accept them as fact. Following her epiphany, Suzannah wondered the obvious. Why aren't I enough? What is missing from our marriage that he has to seek elsewhere? These burning questions followed her around like a curse, eating away at her confidence and fueling her insecurities. She would work up the courage to confront him, only to have Danny rush in and shatter their privacy. He would look at her curiously, but she could only feign ignorance and pretend to become absorbed in the television. It's when the answers became clear that she began not caring.
There are nights when she falls asleep in his arms that she doesn't care. When she watches him play with their son, she doesn't care. He's still outwardly hers, still loves her, still comes home every night on time. He wouldn't leave her. Only three people in the world really know what's going on, so what's the harm in keeping it that way? She's scared of a dramatic divorce, of the associated stigma, of the harm it would do to her child. After a year of inner turmoil, she decides: She can deal with it, she can be happy, and this is the best route to take. She can sacrifice this tiny thing for the greater good. The secrets become commonplace, so intertwined with her life that the perception of normal is blurred beyond repair.
It works. For a while. For two years, in fact. But as any credible psychologist--and anyone with common sense--will tell you, it isn't healthy to repress emotions. It's lightning in a can, fire in a bottle, dynamite in a jar.
New Year's Eve is a night adults use to get together with friends, spend a night away from their kids, drink champagne, and kiss. Suzie and Charlie Buchanan throw a party every year on this date, and this year is no exception. Close friends, coworkers, and neighbors all attend. An enjoyable time is had by all, as evidenced by the mess left behind at three in the morning. Suzie has consumed just enough alcohol to believe that getting the truth out in the open is a good idea.
"Charlie," she says while gathering trash from the living room table. "I know."
"You know...?" he returns dubiously, bending down to un-plug the vacuum cleaner.
"Oh, yes. I've known all along. Only I didn't want to believe it at first."
"Believe what, Suzie?" And his question is accentuated by a patient smile.
"That you were having an affair." A silence befitting the magnitude of her statement envelops the house.
"An...affair. You think I'm cheating on you."
"No. I know you're cheating on me."
"Would you care to explain how you came to this startling conclusion?" In response, Suzannah shakes her head, a small and helpless smile distorting her features.
"Are you denying that you're in love with someone else?" And that's it--right before her eyes, Charles Buchanan falls apart.
"Oh, Suzie, I'm so sorry. I...I never wanted this to happen. I tried to fight it, I never meant to hurt you or...oh, God, Danny..." His forces his hands over his forehead and digs the palms into his eye sockets. He's trying to erase it all, trying to blind himself to the reality of his mistakes. His life as he knows it is over, everything he's come to rely on is going to disappear. He's going to have to start his life over right in the middle of it. He feels a hand upon his shoulder.
"Look at me, Charles." And he can't disobey her, not after what he's just admitted to. And instead of anger, of righteous indignation and bitterness, he sees only hurt and understanding in her eyes. Hurt and understanding. "I can't forgive you. You've dishonored your vows to me, broken our committment." Charlie nods, his head starts to droop once more, but fingers on his chin lift it up again. "But that doesn't mean I'm going to kick you out and never let you see your son again. I still love you."
"And I know you still love me," she interrupts. "But there's no denying the feelings you have. You can't repress these things." And despite everything, a rueful smile overtakes his lips. She returns it.
"What are we going to do?"
Daniel Buchanan is spending the weekend with his grandparents. Charles and Suzannah Buchanan are sitting on their couch holding hands. In a chair on the other side of the living room table is the last person in this tiresome love triangle.
"Things are going to be just as before. The only difference is, Charlie isn't hiding anything from me, and I'm not hiding anything from him."
"Are you sure about this?" It's the millionth time her husband has asked the question, and Suzie has the same answer.
"I still can't believe you're really okay with it."
"I've known you for seven years. You're his best friend. And as much as it may hurt to admit it, he needs you too, Peter." Charlie catches Peter's gaze and there's a palpable connection between them. Her husband's lips twist into a brilliant smile.
He never came home smelling like perfume, instead it was an unfamiliar aftershave. He never had a suspicious alibi because he never lied--he always told her that he was going to Peter's apartment to hang out. And she never found another woman's clothes, but she'd lost count of how many times Charlie had come home wearing someone else's tie.
"It's a little unconventional," Suzie admits. "But nobody's perfect."