Day 4 – 6:00AM, New York City.

I don’t want to see him. I don’t want anything to do with him. Just the thought of him hurts, but the thought of not having his love anymore hurts more.

I have so many questions I want to ask him. So much I want to know and yet a lot I don’t think I want to know.

Was she beautiful? Younger? Sweeter? Did she kiss better? Make him feel things I didn’t? Did she treat him better in those few moments than I did in our nine years together? Did she say the right things? Was she the kind of girl he wanted, the kind of wife he needed that I could never be no matter how I tried?

I can’t think of anything else except him and her. Of what they did. Of the lies he told. Of what came after.

What is he doing here anyway? What does he want from me?

I fight back tears, not wanting to wake Lisa with my crying.

Was she worth it?

I glance at the time and will myself to sleep, but sleep is as distant as my ability to make what should be a simple decision.

What next? Do I head home…or…?

I stare at the ceiling, still dark from the blackout curtains, and look at my phone again. I’ve read countless articles on it about infidelity and adultery and cheating husbands and wives. Marriages broken after ten, twenty, thirty years. Affairs that lasted for decades.

And mine…just a kiss right? Isn’t that okay then? Doesn’t that make it nothing? But the pain and brokenness is real. And his decision carried with it the weight of so much more. I realise it doesn’t matter what was done, how long it was done for or when and where, because betrayal is betrayal.

Like a wild fire it doesn’t matter how or where it started. Once it takes hold everything burns, and like these articles, all that’s left is why. Why people do it, why people shouldn’t, why people should watch for these signs, why doing this will cause this to happen, why I should have known, why, why, why…

The screen shifts to an incoming call and for a moment I’m filled with dread. I’m relieved it’s not James, but my friend Sara, who asked me to stay with her in Europe or go to New York or both. I have another day to decide where I’m headed before Lisa flies home. I lock myself in the bathroom and sitting on the bathmat, listen to the voice I’ve missed for the two years since Sara had flown back to be with family.

“James is here,” I tell her.

“Will you see him?” she says.

“I can’t…I just…” I start to cry and I hear her repeating my name with sympathy. She doesn’t know what to say except to let the tears out and cry as much as I need to.

“I wish I could be there to hug you right now,” she says. Then when I settle, “Find a place to be alone. Go without Lisa if you have to, to some place that makes you happy like a beach or a library. You really need time to yourself to think.”

The mention of a library stirs something inside of me. There’s always been something about books that made me happy. Maybe New York City has a nice library somewhere.

“Take each day at a time. You don’t have to make a decision right now. And if you don’t want to head home, you can come and stay with me for as long as you need.” The warmth of Sara’s voice is comforting. Even with the distance, the line is clear and she sounds so close.

We chat a little longer and I feel better just knowing she’s there for me. I leave the bathroom and find Lisa still asleep. Looking up the library, I find the closest on 42nd street next to Bryant Park. It’s still closed, but I want to get out and away. I’d refused the spare keycard when Lisa had offered it to me, because I thought I’d be with her the whole trip. Now I stand next to her bag on the desk, torn at the thought of rummaging through her things without asking.

“What are you doing?” Lisa snaps. Her sleepy eyes find me hovering between waking her and picking through her purse.

“I just wanted to get the spare keycard and go for a walk,” I say.

She grumbles as she kicks off the blankets, trudges across to me, and pulls the spare keycard from her wallet. She shoves it in my hand and drops back into bed.

“Don’t bring him back here,” she says with the authority of a mother scolding a child.

“I wasn’t going to.” I don’t know why, but as I walk out, I feel angry at her words and her tone. They make me feel judged – as if even seeing him again is something I should be ashamed of. I know she doesn’t want me to go back to him. Once a cheat always a cheat. I used to take that stance too until it happened to me. I was always adamant I would walk away and that would be that, yet here I was. Torn.

I grab some breakfast and head to Macy’s near Penn Station. After spending too much time trying to justify myself – I’m just going for a walk, I wasn’t going to go meet him – I’m no longer fuming at Lisa. Instead I remember how good she’s been to me and how she’s sheltered me these last few days and taken care of me. As I walk around Macy’s, I look for a gift for her to thank her. It’s nice to shop for someone else.

I make my way up to Bryant Park and find there’s a show of some kind on. I sit on one of the stone walls and watch. Taking a photo I message it to Lisa, wondering if she’d like to join me there, but my credit has run out. A part of me thinks maybe I’m still trying to justify myself. To give her proof I really did go for a walk on my own.

I take a self-guided tour of the New York Public Library and am amazed at how beautiful it is. I reach the Rose Main Reading Room and find it closed for renovations. Sitting outside, I stare at the intricate craftsmanship of the ceiling and wish James was there to see it. To share this moment. I sniffle to hold back the sobs, aware the guide standing outside the door is glancing at me.

In the stillness on that cold marble bench, I feel my phone vibrate in my pocket. It’s connected to the library wifi and a message from James is sitting there. It’s of a photo of a tree in Central Park.

Why is he sending me a picture of a tree?

Without a second-thought, I message him a picture of the library ceiling; my first response to him since I left.

Day 3 – 10:00PM, New York City

Lisa and I spend the morning in Central Park. Being in a new city helps, and there’s so much activity going on that it’s easy to stay distracted.

At the fountain we spot a young man in a tuxedo holding a bouquet of red roses. His friends are hiding in the trees by the path and the young man looks nervous and a bit embarrassed. Clearly a proposal is in the works.

Lisa finds it beautiful and romantic. I can’t help but wonder if in a few years time one of them will be heartbroken and crying. I don’t wish it on anyone, but it’s hard to believe in happily ever after.

When we leave Central Park, Lisa points out a shirtless jogger with incredible abs running past, and we joke about me finding a new man here – with said incredible abs as a requirement. It’s a good laugh, but with all the hurt, I think I’ve sworn off men, and plan on a happy future with two cats – maybe three.

After lunch we line up to buy tickets to a Broadway musical. Lisa is intent on watching ‘Finding Neverland.’ I vaguely remember the film version starring Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet.

“What do you want to watch if they don’t have tickets for it?” she says.

I glance at all the billboards with the most standout being ‘Les Misérables’ and some drag show.

“Something that’s not depressing,” I say. I have enough sadness right now. I could do with a laugh or two.

We end up with tickets to ‘Finding Neverland’ that night. Lisa surprises me with a few t-shirts and a dress she bought me. I’m so touched I could burst into tears.

I wear the dress for the theatre and feel a little better seeing myself in something nicer than mismatched shorts and a t-shirt. Still, I can’t see who or what I’m dressing up for. I walk away from the mirror in disgust.

It’s exciting to go to the theatre though and I realise I’ve been working hard at not thinking about James. The last message I got from him was the night before, telling me he was sorry. I’d ignored it and hadn’t heard from him since. I don’t allow myself to think about whether his silence means he’s run off to his other woman.

During the intermission, Lisa turns to me with shock and guilt on her face. “I’m so sorry, we can leave if you want to.”

“How come?” I say.

“I didn’t realise what it was about…and…”

It’s my turn to be surprised. Which character did she think I was relating with?

“It’s okay, I’m loving it.” After taking some time to reassure her, we have a short chat until the musical begins again.

I watch the rest of the musical and find it beautiful and moving, but I know what Lisa means since there are scenes that cut me deep. I remembered the plot to be about the writer of ‘Peter Pan’ meeting some children and getting inspired, but here, all I see is a husband pouring all his love and attention into another woman and her children.

I suddenly have a moment of revelation. Maybe James is more happy this way. With someone who understands him and has children who can make him happy and inspire him. Maybe I couldn’t give him all this. Despite everything, I want him to be happy – even if that means letting him be with her instead.

When it’s over, I’m in tears, but not because I’m upset about my own situation, more because I really enjoyed it and the music was moving. We head back to the hotel and I take some time to check the bank account. I’d noticed earlier that my original cancelled booking had shown up, which meant I was paying for flights twice. The bank had told me to check in a day or two and see if it’d cleared so they could dispute it if necessary.

My cancelled flight is no longer showing, but my heart stops as I read the new transactions.

“Shit…” It slips from my mouth.

“What’s wrong?” Lisa looks over my shoulder.

“I think James is coming…”

“What?”

“There’s a flight here…it’s a new one…” I open James’ personal email and search for a flight confirmation. It comes up right away. I sink inside. “He arrived today…about an hour ago…” A glance at my phone tells me he hasn’t called or messaged.

“No! You need this time alone to think and he’s not letting you have it.” Lisa’s face twists into fury. “He has no respect for you and what you want or need.”

“I know.” It’s all I can manage to say to her. I can’t process what’s going on inside. There’s anxiety and then there’s pain, like I’d tried to run away from something bad and it was catching up with me anyway.

“I don’t want to see him,” I say. I’m not ready to face this. I haven’t decided what to do yet. I suddenly picture myself walking through the city, checking over my shoulder, wondering if he’ll be there.

“He’s ruining everything!” Lisa is furious and I’m simply numb. I can’t decide exactly what I’m meant to feel, nor can I decide if Lisa’s reaction is normal, though I know she’s trying to be protective.

“Let’s just grab a bite and go to bed,” I manage when things calm down a little.

“I need a drink,” Lisa says in irritation as we head out the door.

That night, I don’t sleep a wink. Instead, I stare at my phone and the message I’d found sitting on there when we got back.

James: I know you don’t want to see me, but I’ll be waiting around Central Park tomorrow.

Day 2 – 7:00AM, New York City

I touchdown in JFK airport and make my way to the subway. It’s disorientating since my dates and times are skewed. It seems I’ve flown back into yesterday. Of all the days I’m repeating, it happens to be the date of the worse day in memory. If only I could redo all this. Make it go away. But it’s still there, bleeding out of my chest.

I manage to get a metro card and take the Airtrain to Jamaica station. From there it’s Long Island Railroad straight to Penn Station. It seemed like the simplest route when I looked it up, and simple is what I need right now.

I wanted to ask Lisa to meet me at the airport, but I didn’t want to seem needy and dependent. It hadn’t occurred to me that I was struggling with the simplest task, so finding my way in a new city was probably inching me over the edge.

I reach Penn Station and wait on the street, watching hawkers offer bus tickets and what looks like maps to people passing by. I clutch the strap of my backpack and hope I’m not drawing too much attention. In Manila, I’d have to be careful where I’m standing, especially on my own. I can’t help but apply the same rule here.

A deli across the road makes me realise I haven’t eaten at all since I’d found out everything. I’m feeling faint and jittery, so I head over and after much standing around, get myself a wrap. The serving is huge compared to Manila, and it’s a surprise when I manage to take a bite from it without throwing up. Since I haven’t eaten in a while, I take it slow, and save the rest for later.

It’s a relief when Lisa shows up. It’s good to see the face of a close friend in all this. She gives me a hug and as we walk to her hotel near Times Square, she chatters away about her visit to Washington DC and how things are going back home.

“Where are we staying again?” I say midway. She groans and rolls her eyes.

“I already told you three times. I’m not repeating it.”

“I don’t remember asking…”

“You did and after three times, I won’t say it again.”

I don’t argue with her. If she says I did, I probably did. I guess my memory isn’t working very well. We reach the hotel and I set my backpack down in the room. She pulls out a map and lists the things she wants to see.

“Anything you want to see?” she says.

“I’m happy with what you said.”

“Are you sure?” She doesn’t seem impressed by my tag-along stance. How could I explain it? Did I have to justify myself? What did I want to see in New York City? Hell, what was I even doing here to begin with? Twenty-four hours ago I didn’t even know I’d be here.

She grabs her picture and begins talking again, but I barely catch a word. I go through my backpack to see what I’d grabbed on the way out. There’s a sports jacket, a set of gym clothes, two t-shirts, my laptop, wallet and passport. I laugh in an almost manic way. I could be losing it.

“What happened?” Lisa says.

“I guess I got my priorities right. I have my passport and my gym clothes.”

“That’s great! We can go shopping!” She has this way of making things fun and positive. I don’t want to tell her I’m blowing all the money on flights, and I’ll probably need the rest I can salvage to survive the future.

“Shoes. Let’s grab a pair on the way.” I know I won’t last a day walking in what I have. I need properly supported walking shoes.

“Okay, we’ll go to Times Square and then the viewing deck at Rockefeller.”

I follow her out and she laughs when I make the wrong turn for the elevator.

“I’m so glad we’re in New York City together.” Her voice goes shrill with excitement. I smile and nod. I’m glad I’m with her too. I just wish the circumstances that brought me here were different.

As I walk the crowded city streets, I feel safer than I have in months and many things remind me of home in their likeness, only bigger. I buy a pair of shoes in Times Square and all set for walking, we head to the Rockefeller observation deck.

From up top, I’m struck by the architecture of the surrounding buildings, the blend of old and new of the city, the way it stretches out so far in a breathtaking way that Manila could never do for me.

James would love it here. It’s the first thought that comes to mind and it hits like a derailing train.

I fight the tears and promise myself to enjoy this. To take a time out, however short, before I rush back into my new reality. The last thing I want is to ruin Lisa’s holiday by making this all about me. So I take photos with Lisa, force myself to smile, do all the touristy things, while inside I’m cracking and struggling to keep the pieces together.

Everything about this city reminds me of James – the things he would love, would say, would think and do. The things he’s missing out on and every little thing I know he would notice. He should be here with me. We should be sharing this city together like we’ve shared so many other places. But we’re not, because somewhere along the way he decided I wasn’t worth loving.

As if on cue for some cheesy movie cliche, it begins to rain. Lisa brings out her umbrella to take a few final snaps before we rush back inside. Staring out the foggy window at New York City, and all it’s grey, but magnificent beauty and wonder, I’ve never felt more empty.

Day 1 – 7:30PM, Manila.

I make a long distance call to the bank back home, thankful that their helpline is 24 hours. They assure me the cards and fine and suggest it’s the airline’s site that is having issues and to try again.

I do and confirmation appears on the screen. I snap my laptop shut and rush outside. I’m late. I should’ve been on my way to the airport already.

Erica calls for the third time. I’d been ignoring her calls, trying to get flights booked, and I still have her apartment keys. When I meet her, she’s already standing by a taxi she waved down for me. 

“Thank’s for everything.” I give her the biggest hug I can muster. Is it the last time I’ll see her?

“Take care.” There’s worry in her eyes. She doesn’t want me to go. I know the moment I get in the taxi, she’ll be calling James, and telling him. She already mentioned she’d called James to tell him I was with her and safe. It doesn’t matter. I’m grateful she gave me somewhere to stay.

I close the door and the driver takes off.

“Where to?” he says.

“Terminal 3, thanks.”

The driver brakes. “Three hundred, okay?”

I groan inside. Bartering? Now? Please no.

“Just put the meter on,” I say.

“Three hundred.”

Is he going to kick me out of the car? I can’t do this right now.

“Please, just use the meter.”

“But there’s traffic and it’ll be busy and it’s peak hour…”

I’m sick of this shit. I’m tired of being used and abused and taken advantage of.

“The meter.” It comes out in my tone, more forceful than intended. The driver looks at me in the rearview mirror and mutters in his own language. I only pick up the word ’traffic’ as he steps on the accelerator and switches gears. He pauses his tirade and turns on the meter.

“Meter…plus fifty,” he says with hope.

“Okay, fine. Just go.”

He beams and regains his chirpy manner as we speed off. I stare out the window, checking he’s taking the right roads, raking my vague memory. I realise how dependant I’d been in this country. I try to make a plan.

1. Check-in and get on the plane.

Then?

Figure it out. Just get out first.

It hits me. I didn’t copy my booking reference. I check my phone for the confirmation email, but there’s nothing there. I dig out my laptop and try to find the reference, but I’d already closed the windows. How will I get inside the terminal? From experience, I need to show my flight details before security allows us through the front door.

I scroll through my phone and find a copy of the cancelled itinerary – the one that failed its payment. Could I pretend it’s the actual and use it to get through? Only one way to find out.

The driver drops me at the airport and I show the guards the cancelled itinerary. The guard checks the flight details, misses the part that says pending confirmation, and nods me through. I breathe relief and pass through the baggage screening.

The staff at the check-in uses my passport to locate my booking. She confirms it’s there and issues my ticket. I rush through immigration without a hitch and collapse into a chair in the waiting lounge.

It’s only when I stop that I realise it: I’m leaving.

7hrs – 9:00am, Manila

My friend Rachael arrives with breakfast. I have no appetite, but I feel bad for wasting her efforts, so I try. The first bite makes my stomach turn and I almost vomit on the floor. I pick at the food instead, realising I need to retell the story all over again.

Rachael seems more upset than me, and as she hugs me, she starts to cry as well. Before I know it, I’m comforting her instead of the other way around.

“I thought you guys were perfect…I always looked up to you two…you guys made me believe there could be good relationships…”

Her words hurt and I feel more shame. I’d always spoken so highly of James. I thought he was amazing and he would never treat me like trash. God, I was wrong.

A message comes through. I’m tempted not to read it incase it’s from him, but I do anyway. It’s a close friend from home.

Lisa: Just arrived in New York. DC was great.

I’d forgotten she was on holiday – the one I was meant to go on too, except I’d chosen to reunite with my husband instead. I message her back what happened with James.

Lisa: Get out of there. If you can’t go home then come here. I have half a bed to share at my hotel. We can fly home together after.”

Before I can respond, a call comes in from Europe. My friends, scattered around the world, who I’d tried to call at 3:00am, are all responding. They say the same thing. “Get the hell out of Manila. Go to New York, Europe, wherever, but get away. Go somewhere safe, and think.”

They’re right. I know it. I can’t go home yet. But can I go somewhere else? Can I afford it? I always tried to be frugal, especially with the business and trying to support things. What was it all for?

After checking the bank accounts, I find I have enough to fly to both places and then home. I’ll be broke afterwards, but back home I know there’s a job waiting and I can tie things over with help from friends and family.

I log online and move all the money out of the joint bank account I share with my husband. I’m tempted to cancel our credit cards, but I’ll need them until I get home. Home. Can I bring myself to go there in the end?

Erica is watching me through all of this.

“New York?” she says. “Are you sure?” She’s the only one who doesn’t support the decision.

“Yes. I need to go.” I look online for flights using Rachael’s mobile data. I book the last flight out to New York. My credit card payment gets rejected. What the fuck? Did James cancel my card?

Heart pounding, I try again. My card rejects again. I try the airline directly and get an email confirmation for a one way ticket to New York. And then? I can’t decide. One step at a time. First? Get out.

Erica heads to work, but Rachael doesn’t need to start until the afternoon, so she spends the rest of the day with me. She forces me out of the apartment to go shopping. The last thing I want to do.

“I want to get you something nice. You need a treat,” she says. What I really need is something that will make this all go away. A car zooms past in front of me. One step and my request would have come true. It’s Rachael’s arm blocking the way that denies me this wish.

I stand there, stunned, staring at the car disappearing down the road. It hits me: I almost died. I laugh. Imagine the timing of that. Wouldn’t James feel good about himself?

“Not under my watch,” Rachael says. She keeps a closer eye on me after that. In the shops, she makes me try on several dresses, but I’ve never felt more ugly and unattractive. I want to get the hell out of there, but I don’t want to upset Rachael who is clearly just being nice.

I try on a white day dress with a light yellow and pink floral pattern. As I stare in the mirror, I fight down tears. What does it matter what I wear, or how I look? I took good care of myself before and James still went after someone else.

I finally manage to convince Rachael to head back to Erica’s apartment. She walks me back and hugs me good-bye as she leaves for work. I head back upstairs alone. It’s strange. I never realised how alone I could truly be until now.

When I get back to my laptop, I find a second email from the airline sitting there. I freeze as I read the contents. My booking has been cancelled due to an issue with my credit card.

Frantic, I try to book again, but the site loads too slowly without Rachael’s mobile data. I rush to the nearest cafe and use the wifi. After three attempts, and a different card, I’m close to tears. My flight isn’t booking and if I’m going to get this last flight to New York tonight, then I need to leave in twenty minutes, otherwise I won’t reach the airport in time.

I try again, hoping James hasn’t cancelled the cards. It doesn’t seem like him to be like that, but then again, he didn’t seem like the type to cheat either.

As I stare at the screen still trying to load, I can’t help but wonder: Am I stuck in this hell hole?

4hrs – 6:00am, Manila

Between my crying and shaking, I manage to repeat James’ confession, and how I ended up at Erica’s apartment. It feels like traces of a nightmare instead of reality. My eyes go to the balcony, the bits of furniture, the paint on the walls. It all happened in an apartment like this one. God.

Erica listens with worry in her eyes, then suddenly she touches her ear and says, “Wait…”

I look at her in surprise, then realise she’s wearing an earpiece.

“Is someone on there?” I say.

“It’s Ryan.” She names her fiancé. Before, my insides were sinking. Now they’re frozen as well.

“Has he been there the whole time?”

She nods.

“And he…heard all of that?”

“He wants to talk to you.”

I bury my face in my hands. I could barely bring myself to tell Erica. Now her partner was eavesdropping on the other side? I take the earpiece and her phone.

“Hello…sorry you had to hear all that.” I’m ashamed. I feel stupid. Used. How did I let myself end up this way? Why all of a sudden does being “the wife” feel like a bad thing? That spending time with my husband, having sex with him, all of the things said and done as his wife now make me feel like a cheap whore?

“No, you shouldn’t be sorry at all,” Ryan says. I’ve only met Ryan once. He seemed a little hostile then, and angry, because he’d just found out Erica hadn’t told him everything about her history. He’d been burned before, had trust issues – that resulted in Erica being attached to her earpiece 24/7, and now we were part of some secret club no one volunteers for. It sucked.

But his words help. For some strange reason he’s not telling me I’m stupid, or I shouldn’t have trusted James, or that I’m a cheap whore like my brain is telling me. Instead, somewhere I hear the words, “You’re a nice girl. I don’t know you well, but I can tell just from talking to you and the things you’ve said so far. You’ll have to decide if you can still trust him and work things out. It’s really hard, and they have to do everything and more to prove they can be trusted again.”

“Should I stay?”

He draws in a deep breath and exhales slowly. “Nine years is a long time to throw away.”

But James is the one who threw them away… I bite my lip, struggling to contain the anger surging up. I’ve never known anything like it.

Erica enters the apartment again. She’d ducked out after handing me the phone. She’s carrying a large paper bag and unpacks a used kettle, some sachets of coffee and tea, and a cup noodle. I thank Ryan for his advice and hand the phone back to Erica.

“So what will you do?” she says.

“I don’t know…” I think of flying home. The questions I’ll be asked. The finality of it. I know once my feet touch home turf then I’m gone. James will never get me back. For some reason I can’t bring myself to do it. Not yet. I always thought if something like this happened to me I wouldn’t hesitate to walk away. Now, I’m hesitating. Idiot. I keep asking myself if it’s the right thing to do. But what is the right thing under these circumstances?

“I might head home,” I say.

“You don’t want to stay? Try and make things work? You need to think about your future family.”

Her words stun me. Family is an important tie in Filipino culture. They live in clans. Family, whether immediate or extended, are something their decisions and lives are always led by. An idea that is foreign to me. I want to tell her I can have a family with another man later, but I don’t want to start an argument. Instead I tell her I’ll think about it.

I expect her to leave since we both haven’t had any sleep. Not that I think I’ll get any. But she stays with me all night. I check my phone and find missed calls from James along with several messages.

James: Babes, where are you?

James: Are you safe?

I scroll through.

James: Just tell me you’re safe.

James: I’m sorry for everything…let me know where you are.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.

With a sigh, I throw my phone away and cry again. He wasn’t sorry back then was he?

“I want to talk to her,” I say. “But I don’t know if I should.”

“She’s just going to lie.”

“I know…but…” I message James for the first time.

Me: Give me her number.

He doesn’t ask questions. Doesn’t debate it. He just texts me her phone number. I look at Erica.

“I’m doing this.” I go out on the balcony and stare at the screen. It’s so early. I’ll wake her. Fuck. Why should I give a shit if it’s a considerate time to call or not? I punch in the number.

“Hello?” The voice is husky and drowned with sleep. Good.

“This is James’ wife. Do you know who I am?” I know she does. James told me already. She even had the nerve to want to meet me and pretend to be friends just randomly bumping into each other.

“No,” she says, but I can hear the mice creeping in her head.

“Really. You don’t know me.”

“No I…”

“I have a question for you and I want you to answer me honestly. Did you, or did you not, meet my husband two weeks ago and have sex with him?”

“What? No!” Her voice comes out in a squeal. She’s obviously awake now. At least their stories align. No sex.

“Did you, or did you not, meet him and kiss him?”

“No, we didn’t.” She’s calmer now, but fury is hammering through my veins.

“Really? Then why the fuck would he tell me that you did?”

“I don’t know.”

“Wow, he just felt like making something like that up? Stop fucking lying to me. If you can’t talk because your husband is lying next to you, then you go somewhere right now where you can.”

“Okay…wait…”

The phone hangs up. It better be bad reception or it’ll be screaming she hears down the phone instead of undertones of fury. I call again. She answers.

“Now talk,” I say.

“We just kissed.” Her story matches up with James’ except for these words. “I told him to stop.”

“You told him to stop? And what? He forced you to kiss him all night? He forced you to jump on him and grind your hips and to meet him again the next day for another snogging session?” I’m outraged that she’s shoving full blame onto James. How could James cheat on me with a woman who won’t even stand up for him? I fought my family to be with him. Worked my ass off for him, and he gave it up for this? “Stop fucking lying to me!”

Silence.

“Does your husband know?” I say.

“No…I feel guilty…I was going to tell him…but I haven’t yet…”

“I can tell him right now if you want.”

“No, please don’t…”

“Fine. Here’s what we’re going to do. You’re never to contact James again.”

“But he contacted me.”

“I don’t give a shit. Don’t contact him ever again. If he contacts you, you tell me right away and I will deal with him. If you contact him, he will tell me or I will find out and I promise I will call your husband and tell him everything. Do you understand?”

“Yes.”

“Good. I don’t want to hear from you again and this is the last time you will hear from me as long as you stay the hell away.”

I hang up, and take several breaths to calm myself. My blood is racing, my heart is pounding, and I think I’m going to be sick over the balcony. I go back into the room where Erica is waiting. As I hand her back the phone, a message comes through. It’s her.

OW: In his last message, he offered me a job at his company as operations manager. I said no, but referred my cousin. This is his name. I hope that’s okay.

I could smash the phone. A job at his company. The one I worked overtime to fund. The one we built. Operations manager. So he could see her all the time? So he could meet her for a fuck whenever he wanted and I wouldn’t even know because I’m rarely on site?

“Don’t believe her. She had no reason to say that. She’s just trying to break you guys up,” Erica says.

Erica is probably right. But it worked. If James planned to meet her on our holiday, and offered her a job so he could keep seeing her, then this was a relationship he wanted…

Maybe there wasn’t anything left to save.

Confession

I’d arrived in Manila two weeks earlier, leaving behind my home country, family, friends – everything I knew.

Before that, my husband and I had been back and forth in separate countries for two of our three years of marriage (together for nine). I worked while he set up his startup business, and I ended up being the sole income earner supporting us both in separate countries.

We spent the first week back together going on dates. I’d ask him often if he wanted to talk, since he’d complained about not being able to when I was away, but now that I was here, he was refusing to open up. I decided to be patient and keep trying.

In the second week, after a weekend trip away, we stayed up talking until 2am. He was finally opening up.

Lying in bed, side by side, I jabbed him with my finger and said with a laugh, “Do you have any confessions? Anything you want to tell me? Any girls you screwed around with when I was away?”

Whenever I’d say something like that he’d always say, “No,” and, “I’m happy I can look you in the eye and say I never did anything like that.” This time his lips trembled, his eyes welled up, and he looked away.

I sink inside. “Oh, God…”

I could read it in his face. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want him to open up anymore. But there was no stopping it now.

“I had a dream about this girl I hooked up with back in school. She lives out of town now, a few hours drive away. I messaged her to see how she was, and she messaged back right away and told me she was headed into town by bus and would arrive at about 3am. I told her I’d pick her up from the bus stop and to let me know when she was close.

She didn’t get in touch again until the morning and said she was already at her family’s home. We met for dinner instead. After, we went to the bar for drinks.” He hesitates. “She complained about not feeling well, so I took her downstairs to one of our apartments to rest.”

I’m shaking. Inside I’m begging. Please don’t say what happens next. Don’t let it be what I think…

“I left her in the room and went out onto the balcony. After a while she followed me out. I…kissed her…and we went back into the room and kissed on the couch…and the bed.” He closes his eyes, his face pale, his voice trembling.

“Did you have sex?” Raunchy images are flashing through my head. Every passionate moment we’ve ever shared is instantly replaced by him doing it to her.

“No.” He grimaces. “I…I groped her butt and felt a pad there…”

“So if she didn’t have her period you would have?”

Shame and guilt cross his face. “Probably.”

I seethe a breath. My brain is numb. My heart is pounding. All I can do is stare at my clenched fists. This can’t be real. I’m so stupid…I’ve been so stupid.

“Was there anything else…physical?”

“No. We just kissed…and I saw her again the next day and we had a few hours before her bus came so we went to karaoke. We drank and kissed there again.”

“Okay.” It’s all that my shock allows me to say. “When was this?”

“Three weeks ago.”

I focus on my breathing. Three weeks. I arrived two weeks ago. He knew I was coming. He couldn’t wait one more week for me?

“There’s more,” he says.

Fuck. No. I can’t handle more.

“The trip we took last weekend. It was all a lie.”

I gape at him. “What do you mean?”

“She was there with her family.”

“What…?”

“I told her I was going away with you, and she said she was due for a holiday with her family. Then the next day she said she was headed to this place.”

“And you thought you’d bring your wife with you, so you could rendezvous with her for the fuck you missed out on?”

My husband looks like I’ve stabbed him. “I told her we couldn’t talk to each other or acknowledge each other. I was going there to be with you.”

“Bullshit.” I’m recoiling inside. “Did you see her there? Did you meet her there?”

“She stayed at the same hotel…”

“You organised for her to be in the same hotel? Why? So you could go hang out in her room when you weren’t with me?”

“It wasn’t like that.”

“Were you with me and looking at her all that time? Was she where we were and I didn’t even know?”

He sucks in a breath. “At breakfast…they were the family at the table next to us…and we texted each other to say where we were…it wasn’t like we went out of our way to meet up, we just…”

I hold my hand up in his face. “Stop.”

It wasn’t just a fling – a mistake because I was away and he was lonely. He’d organised to meet her while I was there. He was talking to her behind my back. He’d pressured me to go on the trip when I’d initially said no, and now I knew why he hadn’t cared what I wanted. It was all about her.

Our nine year relationship meant less than a weekend make-out session with some chick he hooked up with back in school more than a decade ago.

I shake my head. “Just…I can’t…”

I rush into the bathroom and something in me breaks. Crouching on the floor, choking on tears, I struggle to keep it together. I can’t think straight. Nothing is coming. Then the only thought I can action enters my head.

I need to get out of here.

I jump up, grab my backpack from the shelf outside, and stuff whatever comes to hand into it. My husband is begging me to stop, but all I can think is I need to get out of there. Grabbing my passport, I run out the door, down the fire escape, and into the empty Manila street.