As soon as she walked in, she felt the tension. The tight line of Sandra’s lips, the way her left hand was curled into a fist. Jay’s back was to Amy, but she saw the way his shoulders were tensed.
“I’m sorry, should I come back later?” Amy asked quietly, quieter than she intended.
“No, please don’t, Amy dear, I was just leaving,” Sandra said, her gaze glued to his face as she grabbed her purse and stalked out of the room. Amy hurriedly placed the yellow envelope on Jay’s desk, explained to him that a man named Gerald had left it for him, and exited the room, not wanting to breathe that uncomfortable air any longer.
Later that day, as Amy sat on her couch with a glass of wine dangling from her hand, the phone rang.
“Hello, Amy dear,” Sandra said with an exhalation. Amy could almost smell the smoke from her cigarette over the phone.
“Hello Sandra, is there something I can do for you?” Amy conjured her most polite voice, although she groaned internally. The entitlement to control over Amy that this woman felt was excruciating. Sandra and her husband paid Amy good money, but Amy thought she deserved a raise for all the extra hours she put into catering to their needs.
“Today you gave Jay a yellow envelope. Do you know what was inside?”
“No ma’am,” Amy answered truthfully.
“Do you know who gave it to him?”
“Just a man named Gerald who came to the office this morning.”
There was a pause on the other side of the phone.
“Well thank you very much Amy, you’ve been a great help.” The phone clicked before Amy could even respond. She furrowed her eyebrows, confused at this exchange. Couldn’t Sandra have just asked her husband herself? God, these people are absurd, she muttered to herself.
The next morning, Amy carefully prepared the steaming hot cup of coffee just the way Jay liked it and placed it on his desk at 7:00AM sharp. He was scheduled for a routine 6:30 meeting but would be back any minute. She hoped that he would be back before the coffee cooled. He hated cold coffee.
As she turned to leave his office, the yellow envelope caught her eye. It was just laying there on his desk, naked and inviting. She remembered the conversation with Sandra and a flicker of curiosity lit up inside her. Amy stretched her hand out, reaching for the envelope when she realized what she was doing. To poke her nose in the official business of the boss would be like packing up her desk and writing her resignation letter.
Just then her phone buzzed. A text from Jay telling her that he’d be half an hour late and that he wanted coffee on his desk when he got back. Amy sighed, snatched the mug of hot coffee off his desk and started to leave. She paused and glanced at the envelope again. The flicker of curiosity grew into a flame. This time, she didn’t care. She set down the coffee mug and opened the envelope. Her eyes widened as she inspected its contents. Five pictures, all of the same person. A young girl with brilliant red hair. Walking to school, riding her bike, taking out the trash. The angle of the photos, the way some of them were partially blocked by other objects, suggested that this girl had no idea she was being photographed. That the person taking the pictures didn’t want to be noticed.
Amy sat in the bathroom stall with her head between her legs, failing miserably to breathe normally. What had she just stumbled across? Some perverted fetish? Were Jay and Sandra both in on it? The door entering the bathroom creaked.
“Amy dear, are you in here?” Sandra’s voice asked.
“Uh, um, yeah, I’m in here.” Amy stood up, inhaled deeply, and pushed open the stall door.
“Amy, you know you’re not supposed to leave your desk unattended.”
Amy rolled her eyes internally. Leaving her desk was the least of her worries.
“I’m sorry, Sandra, I’m not feeling well. Actually, I feel very sick. Do you mind if I take the rest of the day off?”
Sandra eyed Amy and pursed her lips.
“I suppose,” she said with a sigh, “I’ll take over for you today.”
When Jay returned to his office at 7:30, a steaming mug of coffee awaited him. It wasn’t until after half of it was gone that he realized something was missing from his desk.
“Amy?” he called out.
Just then, his wife walked in carrying the missing object. He thought he heard a splash as his heart dropped into his stomach.
Sandra slammed the yellow envelope on his desk.
“I told you to drop this,” she said, teeth clenched.
“And I told you I wouldn’t,” Jay replied curtly.
Sandra shook her head. “This is wrong, Jay.” He didn’t respond.
“Please tell me that you won’t do anything else. Please tell me that these pictures are the end of it,” she said, almost pleading.
“I can’t promise you that.”
“This girl has a family--a real family--with parents who love her and care for her. They’ve been loving and caring for her since birth.”
“Yes, and we all know why she’s with them and not us,” Jay said in annoyance. Sandra felt his words drive knives into her chest.
“What did you say?” she asked, incredulous.
“Never mind.” Jay looked down and suddenly became preoccupied with arranging his papers.
“You are not to contact her,” Sandra said stiffly. No response.
“You. Are. Not. To. Contact. This. Girl,” she repeated.
“Yes, dear, I heard you the first time,” he replied through his teeth.
“You won’t do anything else?”
She stared him down. Examined him. Noticed he was wearing the cufflinks she gave him for Christmas.
“Liar,” she said, and walked out the room.
Amy sunk lower into the seat of her car, afraid that they might see her. She considered driving away, but something about this argument seemed so wrong. It was beyond the nature of arguments husbands and wives would have.
She knew that spying was wrong. It wasn’t her original intention. She practiced her speech a hundred times in the mirror. Imagined herself threatening to turn them in to the police. Demanding that they explain to her what the pictures were for. When she pulled up on the curb opposite their house, she didn’t even have the time to decide whether or not to go through with it when she saw them arguing through the living room window.
Jay waved his arms in frustration, and Sandra hardened her stance. Her face was contorted in anger and her mouth was moving at a furious speed.
“Because she’s ours!” Amy could hear Jay yell, even from her car.
“No she’s not! She’s never been!” Sandra shrieked in response.
A few seconds passed where they said nothing. They merely stared at each other with rage.
After a moment, Jay’s lips began to move again, but Amy couldn’t hear what he said. He waved his hands and walked away, leaving Sandra in the room alone before she could respond. After he left, her shoulders slumped over ever so slightly.
Amy’s palms sweated profusely. What the h--- was going on with these people? Who was--or wasn’t--theirs? A light suddenly flooded the lawn as the front door to their house opened. Amy’s heart nearly shot out of her chest, sure she had been caught.
Sandra ambled out of the house and sat down on the front steps. At first she took out a cigarette and appeared to begin to light it, but the cigarette and lighter hit the ground as she slumped over and covered her face. Her shoulders shook violently.
Amy was shocked. She’d never seen Sandra show any amount of emotion other than anger. Amy had never even seen her kiss Jay on the cheek or look at him the way lovers are supposed to look at each other, and yet here she was, sobbing on her front lawn. She looked so small, so defeated.
Against her better judgement, Amy opened her car door and cautiously walked over to Sandra.
“Are you alright?” she asked tentatively. Sandra sniffed and looked up, then scrambled to her feet, wiping at her face.
“Of course I’m alright dear, just tired is all.”
“I know about the girl,” Amy heard herself blurt out. Sandra’s eyes widened.
“I know...about the pictures,” Amy repeated bashfully. At first Sandra looked like she was going to explode in a furious rage. Amy prepared herself for the Sandra’s wrath, scolding herself for being such an idiot. Why did she even get out of the car?
Suddenly, Sandra collapsed on the front step, shoulders violently shaking again.
“I...can’t...deal...with this…anymore,” Sandra choked out between sobs. Amy found herself sitting next to her, patting her awkwardly on the back.
“Deal with what?”
Sandra turned to look at Amy, swimming pools in her eyes. Perhaps it was her loneliness or sheer hysteria, but she told Amy everything. She told Amy about Jay wooing the 17 year old version of her, how they fell madly in love, and how love turned to horror when they realized she was pregnant. “Pregnant at 17!” Sandra exclaimed. Her parents, extremely devout Catholics, were infuriated. They kicked her out the moment she turned 18. Jay, a then-23-year-old man inheriting the family business, took her in. Sandra was terrified and completely unprepared for motherhood. She had never even pictured herself being a mother. So after the baby was born, against Jay’s wishes, she gave the baby up for adoption. That was twelve years ago.
Sandra bowed her head. “I’ve regretted it ever since. All Jay’s ever wanted was a child, but I became very ill when I was 19 and lost the ability to--” Sandra covered her face and dissolved into tears once again.
So this was who Sandra is, Amy thought. She felt pity for the woman crying at her side. She felt pity for the man inside the house, who looks at the pictures of the brilliant red haired girl and only sees what could’ve been.
Later that night, long after Amy had gotten in her car and drove away, Sandra remained on the front steps of her house staring blankly at the stars in the sky. Light flooded the lawn as her husband opened the door and came to sit next to her.
“I shredded the pictures,” he said simply, as if he were stating that the sky is blue or water is wet.
Sandra turned to look at him. He met her gaze. He noticed the black streaks of mascara on her cheeks. He reached out to wipe away a stray tear.
“The pictures are gone, and I’m done,” he said.
She stared into his eyes and saw her pain mirrored there. Why didn’t she stare into his eyes more often?
“Just like that?” she whispered.
He nodded. “This girl doesn’t deserve us rolling in like a tornado and disrupting her life.”
A moment of silence passed.
“Jay, let’s adopt.”
The man chuckled, and the woman laughed. Laughing made her feel lighter.