I didn’t realize how important Vickie was going to become when I first met her. I just saw the vixen, the predator. And it was mesmerizing in a masochistic way. She appeared at the first neighborhood party my husband and I attended. We’d moved there in June, shortly after my husband,Gabe, was transferred. We both liked the established neighborhood with its huge oak trees and generous streets. The homes were neat, well kept, but not ostentatious. Our neighbors had been friendly, but not intrusive. Marcia, a warm, fifty-something woman who was comfortable with her middle age hips and unlifted neck, arrived the first Saturday after we unpacked. She brought lasagna, a basket of fresh vegetables from her garden. Since then, she had been my friendly neighborhood encyclopedia. Marcia was one of the most observant people I ever met.
She had invited us to her “change of season” party in October. She didn’t like Halloween, she told me, but she loved parties. Tonight, she had been introducing us to everyone. Marcia’s home was decorated for autumn (not a carved pumpkin in sight) with bright displays of colorful leaves and candles. Her living room and kitchen were brimming with noisy, chatty people in colorful sweaters and jeans. I had begun to feel relaxed and welcome. We’ve found a good place, I thought, taking a generous drink of the hot cider Marcia made herself. Hard cider, she assured me. I loved that I was standing in a group of smiling, comfortable neighbors who were telling stories about “Marcia’s parties.”
She suddenly stopped mid-sentence and nodded slightly. I turned and saw this woman gliding closer to us. Marcia lowered her voice, leaned close to my ear and said “She’s the one I was telling you about; she prefers her men attached. Vicki doesn’t date,” Marcia warned me, “she feeds.”
Vicki moved gracefully toward our little group, my husband and I being the newest members of the neighborhood. Her eyes, bright green fringed with thick lashes widened slightly when I held my hand out, determined to remain unthreatened. Her hair, a wild living mass of gold and red and roan did, in fact, mimic the coat of a fox. Her pert nose, slim fingers and fragile ankles seemed even more vixen-like. My husband, my knight in armor, suddenly seemed less “my husband” than “fresh meat.”
I watched in a kind of fascinated horror as she took my hand long enough to be polite, while her eyes traveled from my face to my husband and stayed there. Unfortunately, he’d heard none of the tales I’d been subjected to all week. Prey wouldn’t really be prey of they knew the predator’s strategy.
Missing from the stories I’d heard was the visceral reaction to her presence. Even as a woman, I could feel the heat coming from her. I could only observe as she circled my husband, moving in quickly for tiny nips, then retracting, never taking her eyes from his dazed face. “You haven’t been in the neighborhood long, I’m sure I would have remembered meeting you! Tell me, what is it you do?” She smiled. Dimples framed her perfect teeth, her predator’s gleam as she moved closer to my Gabe. I had a sudden image of them being sharpened regularly at the vet’s.
“Computers. Boring stuff. I write web content.” My husband — not a party talker — looked nervously at this lush woman who had touched his hand, then his arm as she maneuvered close enough that he would catch her scent yet barely touch her, no more than graze her hip, which was encased in smooth green silk that flowed softly over buttery curves.
“Computers are never boring. I write content for my own company’s website as well! Maybe you…” And they were off on the HTML of websites, comparing well-known sites with personal favorites. I hadn’t seen him so animated in a while. My stomach pushed against my throat which was suddenly so constricted I couldn’t breathe. Fear. I had never felt this kind of primal fear.
“Gabe, why don’t you grab us all another drink?” I said gaily in a poorly disguised attempt to get him to safer ground — before she could sink her teeth and claws into my soft bunny of a husband. Gabe was handsome, brilliant, and completely stupid about women and social interaction — part of the reason I fell in love with him.
Vicki smiled as he walked away, and then turned to me. Or maybe I should say turned on me. “Are you settling in?” she smiled, taking my hand again.
“Oh, yes, we love the neighborhood. I’ve got a few days off. Gabe thinks I should get the house in order first — you know, furniture, flower beds, all that.” I flushed; what in hell was I babbling about? Gabe didn’t care what I did and he never said anything as arcane as the crap that suddenly spilled from my mouth.
“Well, I know you’ll enjoy living here. If you’d like I can give you the number of my gym so you can start working out. I’ll be glad to let them know you’re coming. They only take a few members a year. I’m sure once you get your work situation decided you’ll want to contact them.” She smiled; her eyes glittering as she quickly glanced at me, head to toe. My face felt hot. How the hell did she spot the extra 10 pounds I’d so cleverly disguised in my jungle print caftan? She patted my arm and asked about children.
“No, none.” I mumbled, looking for Gabe. “Not now, now ever. We decided against it a while ago.” Oh my God. I slammed my mouth shut. I wasn’t going to give her more ammunition.
“Drinks all around!” Gabe suddenly appeared, flushed, awkwardly holding clinking glasses of ice in amber liquid. He raised his glass, my Gabe who was more accustomed to tea than bourbon, and made a toast. Another first! I’d never heard him toast anything.
“Here’s to new friends, new horizons” he smiled; we clinked our glasses and I gulped.
I saw her breast as it brushed his arm when he lowered his glass, which spilled the rest of his drink all over her and himself. Naturally, his hand suddenly reached toward her, trying to dry the darkening silk over her breasts. He stopped abruptly, embarrassed, alarmed. He looked at me, his eyes wide with fright. She was laughing, patting his soaking shirt.
“I’ll get a towel,” I muttered grimly.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
The weeks after that party were, in a word, horrible. Gabe quickly became distracted, stayed late at work (ha, ha), and lost interest in sex. He had never been ravenous in the bedroom, but after only 3 years of marriage, he still occasionally felt me up while I was cooking dinner. Not anymore.
I watched him, acutely aware that he was cheating on me with Vickie. I wasn’t stupid, though apparently Gabe was. I don’t think he realized how transparent he had become.
He called from work almost every Tuesday with “Hey, Babe, I’m sorry, but I’m in the middle of something that I need to finish tonight. Don’t wait up, OK?” and barely waited for my response before he hung up. To be fair, I didn’t think Gabe had ever been caught up in this kind of snare before. Then again, neither had I. I felt my heart break a little more every day.
The friend who’d warned me about Vicki, Marcia, called me one afternoon.
“Hey, you, feel like taking in a movie? I’ve been abandoned for the evening and I rented this great…”
“Thanks, Marcia; I’m not good company right now.” I sighed and felt like an asshole.
“Let me guess, Gabe’s working late?” Marcia’s voice had an edge that made me think I’d pissed her off.
“Well, yeah, but…”
“OK, Cherie, I guess it’s got to be this way. Drive over here, now, and you’ll understand.” She hung up and suddenly I knew what she was trying to do. Vicki’s house was halfway between our house and Marcia’s. It wasn’t between our house and the development observant, though, so I had deliberately gone nowhere Marcia’s since the party.
After I pulled into Marcia’s drive, I sat for a minute, collecting myself. Never underestimate the power of denial. I’d known, of course, believed I was being honest with myself every time Gabe stayed late “at work,” knowing where he really was. But I’d never checked on him, never once driven by Vicki’s house. And Gabe, my stupid Gabe, hadn’t even had the sense to park somewhere else.
“I’m sorry Honey; I’ve seen his car there several times since the party and I knew…” Marcia stopped, drew her sweater close as she stood by my car. She’d walked outside when she realized I wasn’t getting out of the car. I don’t know how long I’d sat there.
“I’m so embarrassed,” I said.
“Why? Because your husband’s a man? A stupid man, but a man.” Marcia said gently.
“I thought he was…I don’t know…better than this?” I started crying.
“Come on in. You need to talk. And you need to listen.” Marcia opened my car door and gestured toward her front door. I got out feeling exposed, humiliated. The entire neighborhood must know, I thought. We walked quickly inside, to her warm, bright kitchen. I sat at the counter, still muttering about the embarrassment while Marcia poured coffee.
“Come on, stop worrying about the neighbors. You aren’t the first casualty, you know.”
“You know,” I began, wiping my eyes with the back of my hand like a child, “you’d think she’d meet him somewhere else. I mean, not here, at her house…”
“Her house is where she does most of her business. She has some kind of online import/export company. I don’t know all the details, but she does work from home so I guess it’s natural. She’s only lived here for a few years. Honey, she seems to only go after the husbands that can do something for her. There are a couple of divorced men in the neighborhood, and from what I hear, she hasn’t responded to any of them. I think she just uses men. Once she gets whatever it is she’s getting from Gabe, he’ll be back home with his tail between his legs.” Marcia was trying to comfort me, I knew that. But when she voiced it in those words, something in me reared up and venom spat from my mouth like fire.
“Tail between his legs? Do you, and the rest of this neighborhood, think I’d actually take him back? Do you have any notion how publicly humiliating this has become? I can barely walk outside to get the mail without feeling like the whole neighborhood’s sighing and shaking their collective head muttering ‘Poor little Cherie, can’t keep her husband at home’. ”
I was suddenly on fire all over. My Agony turned the corner and smacked into Rage. “I should have done this when I realized what was going on. Now that I’ve driven by her house and seen my stupid husband’s car, I can’t ignore this. God, he has a genius IQ and can’t manage to hide his car?” I was shaking now, angry and hurt. Marcia sat across the table, quiet, watchful. She wisely chose to let me vent, sipping her coffee, gently nodding.
Finally, I stopped, and just sat, weeping.
“More coffee?” She asked, and got up, not really needing an answer from me. After I’d had a few sips of her strong brew, I sighed.
”Know any good divorce lawyers?” I asked.
“I do.” She smiled.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — -
to be continued…