“I see my cases, like Lawson tonight, fighting for his life. If these people spent one day in my OR, they’d see what life is worth. Everything.”
Mindy didn’t reply, because he didn’t need any encouragement to talk anyway. She was too soft. Her hand went to her tummy, and she squeezed the roll under her T-shirt. She held it like a security blanket, trying to decide whether to confront him. He seemed irritable tonight. Maybe he really had been at the hospital.
“People don’t have a governor anymore. They do whatever they please. They don’t control themselves. They don’t think of the consequences. They lack discipline. Willpower.”
Mindy cringed again. Once Paul had told her that she was fat because she didn’t have willpower.
“So what’s the school going to do for a Language Arts teacher now? What about the class? These are high-school juniors. Can’t screw with their grades right now.” Paul turned over, his back to her.
“I suppose they’ll figure out something.” Mindy switched off the bedside lamp, plunging the bedroom into darkness, the way Paul liked it. He would’ve been perfectly content to sleep in a cave, and she used to call him Batman. The consolation prize was that she had custom curtains made with a lovely Schumacher fabric that she’d used for the headboard, bench, and two side chairs.
“Good night, honey.”
“Paul, there’s something I wanted to mention,” Mindy said, making her decision to confront him.
“I know, I forgot to bring up the recycling bin when I came in. Does it really matter?”
“No, it’s not that.” Mindy lightened her tone, as if she were a violinist playing a Stradivarius instead of a wife asking her husband a legitimate question.
“What is it?” Paul said, staccato, and Mindy wished she could see his face, but she couldn’t. He was turned away, and it was dark, the only bright spot in the room was his undershirt.
“I was going through the Visa bill and I noticed a charge I didn’t understand.”
“A three-hundred-twenty-seven-dollar charge at the jewelers, you know, the one in that strip mall? Do you know if that was Evan or you? Because if it was Evan, I told him to ask me before he bought any more jewelry.”
Paul fell silent a beat. “That was my charge.”
“For what?” Mindy felt relieved and nervous, both at once, and it was a struggle to maintain her falsely light tone. He wasn’t denying it, which was a good sign. It went into the No Affair column on the Infidelity Ledger.
“Carole’s birthday, remember? The new secretary? I got her a fancy picture frame. I picked it up on the way to the hospital. I thought I paid cash for that, but I was short that day. I charged it.”
“Oh, well, thanks.” Mindy’s chest eased. That was a reasonable explanation, and more importantly, a verifiable one. She could double-check Carole’s birthday. She used to note all of the staff’s birthdays to buy them their gifts, but after therapy, they decided that Paul should buy his own gifts, since he never liked what she picked out anyway.
“It really bothers me that you do that,” Paul said coldly, after a minute.
“Do what?” Mindy said, but she knew. Here it comes.
“You question me.”
“I wasn’t questioning you.” Mindy hated Paul’s habit of construing every question as an accusation. Except this time it was.
“You were questioning me. You’re questioning me all the time. I mean, I do a nice thing, handle my own people myself, even though I have no time. I got the present myself, and here you are, fly-specking the credit cards.”
“I’m entitled to that—”
“No, you’re not, you’re not at all.” Paul huffed. “What the hell, Min? I’m walking on eggshells around here!”
“I’m the one walking on eggshells, not you.” Mindy would never understand how he always accused her of things he did, but he got it out first, so he won.
“I don’t deserve this, not in the least. I get called in on a Saturday, no less, and I work my ass off. I’m in the OR all day, then this pain-in-the-ass daughter of one of my cases is asking me four hundred questions. I barely get dinner and when I finally get to bed, you question my integrity.”
Mindy rolled her eyes, since he was turned away. Sometimes she gave him the finger behind his back or when they were on the phone. “Look, I’m sorry, but you can understand it—”
“No I can’t.”
“A jewelry store charge? From the same store?”
“Okay, listen, Min.” Paul flopped over in the darkness, facing her. “You have to let it go. We’ve been through the mill. We’ve worked through it and we did everything we’re supposed to do. We’re past it now.”
“Are we?” Mindy heard herself say, her genuine voice poking through her self-editing, like a blade of grass peeking through a crack in a pavement.
“Yes, we absolutely are. I love you.” Paul’s tone softened, and Mindy felt her heart ease.
“I love you, too. I really do.”
“Okay, so remember that, Min. You love me, I love you.”
“But I worry—”
“So, don’t. Don’t worry so much. You have absolutely nothing to worry about.” Paul reached out, pulling her to him for a hug.
“Well, good.” Mindy hugged him back, burying her face in his undershirt, which was when she realized something. He didn’t smell like he’d been in the OR. Those odors always clung to his undershirt, an acrid antibacterial tang and even the metallic scent of blood. And he always took his undershirt off when he’d been in the OR, a habit he probably didn’t even know he had. Then she thought back to when he’d first come in the bedroom. His hair had been greasy, but he hadn’t had helmet head from his surgical cap, like he always did. She would’ve bet money that he hadn’t been in any OR tonight.
“Good night, honey.” Paul kissed her again on the cheek, then flopped back over.
“Good night.” Mindy lay in the darkness, looking up at the ceiling, her heart sinking as she added another two items to the Divorce side of the Infidelity Ledger.
Which only made her think about what she would do next.