Karen noticed a sliver of white lace. She peered more closely and spotted a pair of white lacy thigh highs that were still attached to a matching garter belt. She pulled out a red bustier with a shoelace design in the front, whose hook was accidentally caught on the fabric of a black dress made of stretchy fabric. Underneath them lay a red and black plaid miniskirt, completing the picture of the kind of gifts her fiancé must have purchased for his girlfriend while he refused to spend any money on her. Karen crammed the lingerie back into the drawer and slammed it shut. The flash of anger took her by surprise. Before this moment, Ana had been more or less an abstraction to her. Now, however, the other woman became tangible and real, embodied by these fetish objects. The air in the room stifled her, redolent with the perfume that another woman wore, with memories that weren’t hers. Enough is enough! Karen decided. She walked resolutely towards the door.
As she was stepping out, Michael walked in. He seemed surprised to see her going out this late. “It’s past ten o’clock,” he observed, then added, since old habits die hard, “Sorry I’m late. I had a meeting.”
Karen glared at him. “I know all about your meetings. I’m surprised that you didn’t bring her over. That way we can have an even bigger meeting together. Maybe your darling would entertain us with a fashion show.”
“What the heck are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about all the stuff you bought her! The thigh-highs. The bustier. The miniskirt. The black dress,” she listed each item emphatically, like a prosecutor enumerating evidence in court. “What kind of a person would leave all this stuff behind for me to see?”
Michael said nothing in response. He waited calmly for her anger to subside.
“You two deserve each other!”
“That much is true,” he agreed with an insolent smile.
“I’m going out,” Karen announced, heading for the door.
“Wait. It’s really cold outside,” he grabbed her arm. “Where are you gonna go at this hour, in the dark?”
“It’s not like you care,” Karen pulled her arm away and left.
Michael sighed. Women. They’re so jealous, he thought, as if he had never experienced that emotion before. He opened the refrigerator and removed the tuna casserole. This will have to do, he decided to settle for leftovers. He warmed up the dish in the microwave. For dessert, he treated himself to a scoop of fat free vanilla ice cream that Karen had purchased for herself but hadn’t even opened yet.
The phone rang. “Hello?” It was Ana again. Didn’t I just see her? Michael asked himself, annoyed. He was hoping to finish correcting the last of the student essays before Karen returned for round two of their altercation. “Hey,” he said flatly.
“What happened to ‘Hey, Baby’?” Ana asked him, her tone between playfulness and reproach.
“Karen just had a fit,” he told her, to justify his sour mood.
“She found some of your stuff in my drawers.”
“Why was she looking in there?” Ana asked, unsympathetic. “Is she from the Securitate?”
Of course. The mandatory reference to communist Romania, Michael thought. By now, he could predict Ana’s comments. Does she read from a script? he wondered, all of a sudden aware that he was becoming as bored with his new girlfriend as he had been with his former fiancée. “Well, the Romanian Secret Police sure could have used her. She conducts very thorough inspections,” he commented blandly. “Honestly, I don’t know what the hell she was doing rummaging through my drawers. Maybe she was looking for her clothes, since she left some over here. She prefers to pack lightly,” he said by way of explanation, hoping to conclude the cross-examination.
“But she already knows about our affair. So why is she getting so possessive all of a sudden?” Ana wished she could eliminate the suspicion in her voice. Maybe that was part of what was driving Michael away.
“Listen, speaking of the Securitate, I don’t need this interrogation from you also. What can I possibly tell you that you don’t already know? She’s jealous. She’s upset. I was waiting for the shit to hit the fan. I knew I had gotten off way too easy. I just didn’t know what, specifically, would set her off. Now we know.”
“I’ll call you in a little while to see if she got back home safely,” Ana said. “It’s so dark and cold outside. Not the best time to go out for a walk.”
“Why the hell do you care? It’s not like Karen’s your best friend.”
Ana was about to comment on his tone, but she refrained. “She’s a human being. I’ll talk to you later.” After hanging up the phone, she felt uneasy about the whole conversation. It’s as if Karen and Michael were having a lovers’ quarrel and she was the unwelcome intruder who had unwittingly stepped in the middle of it. Somehow, she felt superfluous. She nevertheless called her boyfriend an hour and a half later, as promised.
“She’s not back yet,” Michael announced preemptively as soon as he heard Ana’s voice.
“What do you think happened?”
“I have no clue. She’s probably walking around the neighborhood, like a headless chicken.”
Ana envisioned a despondent woman walking aimlessly in the dark, lost in the suburban maze. “Then why don’t you go search for her? Aren’t you worried?”
“This isn’t exactly a high crime area,” he retorted. “Don’t forget, we live in one of the safest suburbs of Detroit.”
“I know, but still… How long has she been gone?”
She could hear the static of the phone line while Michael checked his watch. “A little over two hours,” he estimated.
“I think you should go look for her.”
“Yes, Boss!” Michael responded, not accustomed to taking directions.
“Will you call me once you find her?”
“Sure. But won’t it be too late for you?”
“No. I haven’t been sleeping well lately.”
“Join the club!”
After hanging up the phone, Michael went into the kitchen to pour himself a glass of cognac. He decided that if Ana called to nag him again, he’d tell her he had gone to look for Karen but hadn’t found her. Heck, he might even tell her that he went to the police station to file a report, to look like he was really concerned. As soon as he stepped out of the kitchen, glass in hand, he noticed that Karen’s tan coat was back on the hook.
“Hey!” he called out, mustering a friendly tone.
She didn’t reply. The door to the guest room remained closed.
Michael cracked it open and peeped in. Karen was sitting at the desk, writing something. “I’m glad to see that you’re back okay.”
Her glance was like an arrow, filled with poisonous reproach. “I hope I’m not interrupting a hot date with your Gypsy girlfriend.”
“Where the hell were you? I was getting worried.”
“Yeah, I’m sure you were worried to death about me. I should have called the paramedics, in case you had a heart attack or something.”
Ah yes, the familiar sarcasm. Where would we be without it? Everything’s back to normal, Michael observed. He attempted to think of something constructive. “You could wear her lingerie if it will make you feel better,” he proposed with a suggestive grin.
“What did you say?” she squinted at him.
“You know, if you wanted to get back at Ana…” he began to explain.
But before he could finish his statement, Karen stood up and took deliberate steps towards him. “You’re the most insensitive person I’ve ever met!” she declared, pushing him with the tip of her fingers out of the room before shutting the door in his face.
That’s the thanks I get for trying to help, Michael thought, steadying himself with one hand on the wall, so that he wouldn’t spill his drink.
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