Mistakes Were Made

There was no way she would ever have made a sex tape. No way. Not ever. She wasn’t that type. She didn’t think he was, either.

They had been on a total of five dates. Finally, after a lovely dinner that went on so long that they missed their movie, they went back to his place. That was her first mistake.

Yes, he owned and she rented. Somehow, the homeownership made his place the logical choice. His was a house, hers an apartment. Piggy in the middle of a triplex. It wasn’t as if she lived in a thirty-plus unit compound. There were a total of six units with a charming courtyard in between the mirrored ‘plexes. But it wasn’t as private. Shared walls. She could understand that. But still.

She was still new in town, even though she had been there two years. The community was “tight knit”, meaning few left (and, if they did, it was usually for scandalous reasons), and “newcomers” took time to warm up to, to be let in. Especially if the newcomer in question was younger, and a bit pretty. But she was starting to make friends. Starting to feel at home. Like she belonged.

The divorce had only been made final last year, after dragging on for three. One of the terms was the move; he had landed a new job at a big firm and they were sharing custody of her now ten-year-old daughter. She agreed to the move early on. She didn’t make a fuss. She wanted to co-operate, be a good co-parent. Still, he dragged it out in court. Money. It was always money with him. Which is why she was in that tiny apartment, and he was living beachside.

She was only thirty-three. Most of the other moms, all stay-at-home, were in their forties. Some were older than that. Not that she kept track. It was the other moms who constantly brought up the age difference. They never mentioned her address, though. It was still in the nice part of town (obviously, to be in that school district), just on the outskirts of it. It was if they pretended she lived next door to her ex with a sunset view. Maybe she could have gotten a nicer place but she was only working part-time while she went to school. She lived frugally in a town known for excess. The mothers all donned trendy yoga-wear, no outfit costing less than $250. Their flip-flops were Tory Burch, if being modest; Chanel to show off. She wore Gap or something from Target. The other mothers did their best to sound sincere when complimenting her. A few started offering hand-me-downs.

She had recently given up on the idea of becoming a family therapist and moved on to getting a real estate license. It seemed like a quicker fix, a clearer path to self-sufficiency. The market was always up here.

He was one of the bigger brokers in the area. Been divorced five years and recently ended an engagement. She heard the ending was bitter, but he only spoke kindly about that relationship. He was well off and handsome and seemed sincere — a good man. She wondered why he wasn’t a father, especially when he showed such warm interest in meeting her daughter. He wasn’t daunted by a ten-year-old, or joint custody issues.

He was a wonderful kisser. Tender but passionate. She felt both empowered and frightened by the feelings he stirred in her.

He would be the first man she had sex with since her husband. The first time she would have sex in three years. She was shy and nervous, and the fourth glass of wine was needed. They kissed on his leather sofa. She expected him to lead her upstairs, but the passion grew and the moment happened, right there on that leather sofa.

He took his time. He did all the things her husband stopped doing. He kissed her long and deep. He made sure her pleasure came first. He didn’t come within the first five minutes. As a matter of fact, he took so long to reach his climax, she thought there was something the matter. But when he did, they both did, and then they curled up in a tangle on that sofa and drifted off, waking hours later. Then, he led her up the stairs and did it all over again.

She really liked him, and he really liked her, and they talked about the future the next morning over breakfast she made in his kitchen. Summer was a few months away. They would take a trip together. Celebrate his fortieth birthday together. Her daughter was included in much of the plans.

She went to work happy. Her daughter noted the lightness in her mother’s step. Flowers arrived. Everything was wonderful. Until the PTA meeting three days later.

She heard the pingings of the phones in the assembly room. One by one, they went off; alphabetically, it seemed. Then the gasps, the tittering. The horror.

Her last name was Willows, so she was near the end of the phone list. That’s what it had to be. She felt eyes on her as she clicked the link and the video played, and she watched that most private moment on the sofa with him unfurl on the iPhone screen. It was black and white, but undeniably clear. You could see everything. Hear everything. She looked up and saw the room gawking at her.

She ran to the car, calling him on the way. It went straight to voicemail. As she went to dial him again, he rang through. She screamed at him. How could he do this?! He assured her he didn’t. He thought he knew who did. He would explain. She didn’t want to hear it. She had to get to her daughter. She was with her father. He was on the phone list, too.

Revenge porn, they called it. Comeuppance, she thought it.

They had lived together for almost two years. He broke up with her not even six months ago. They were too different, he said. She was too angry and unhappy, he told her. She responded by throwing a plate across the room; it crashed open like a ceramic firework. She would show him angry. That’s why, he said with a pointed finger, that’s why he didn’t want to have children with her.

He paid for her apartment, six months of it, anyway. She started drinking and stopped working. Fired, they called it. She had asked for more money. He had said no. They were done. Over. She had kept the ring, lied that she lost it, and now needed to cash it in.

He changed his number, but not the code to the security camera with an online feed. Somehow, he didn’t think about that. Rookie mistake if ever there was one. She could watch him and listen in any time she liked (there’s an app for that). And she did, with great interest.

This was the third woman he had dated since he dumped her. That’s how she took it. She was dumped. And he had the nerve to screw that third woman on the sofa she picked out for him. He paid for it, of course, but she picked it out. That was hers.

She had heard him talk about the third woman to his brother. How much he liked her. How much chemistry they had. How different she was from the psycho he almost married. That’s what he called her. Psycho. She would show him psycho.

She followed him to her house when he picked her up for that fifth date. She stayed behind, looked at her modest apartment, noted her last name on the mailbox.

“Are you a friend of Marianne’s?” a neighbor asked. They had a nice chat. The neighbor gave her so many details. Her daughter’s name, the school the girl attended, where Marianne worked, the restaurant she was going to on her date.

The same restaurant he’d take her to on special occasions when they were together.

And that was it. She wasn’t going to let him move on. Not if she couldn’t.

She sat her in car down his street, opposite of the direction he would be coming. He wouldn’t see her sitting there. But she would be ready.

He was predictable. She knew the moves he would make. She knew how much he liked sex on that sofa. They would never make it upstairs.

The security camera was placed on the console next to the oversized television. It captured the room from the entry to the kitchen. She would be able to see everything. The sound was amazingly clear. She knew this from watching him before. It was automatically recorded, and the download would take seconds. She was going to humiliate him and ruin her, destroy the new relationship before it could ever begin. It was all so unbelievably simple. Just like getting the phone tree from the school’s website. A simple link to the DIY PTA site some overly involved parent created led her right to it. Names, numbers, addresses. Everything.

She did make a mistake in sending those texts from a number that could be easily traced back to her; some free web number anyone could procure. She really should have bought a burner. The number was connected to her junk mail email address, one he knew about. She was surprised how little time it took him to piece it all together.

When the police arrived the next morning, she pretended not to know a thing. Feigned innocence. But she’d had bourbon for breakfast and was already drunk (it wasn’t even ten ayem). Soon she let it slip. It was his fault. All he had to do was change the damn password. He blocked her everywhere else; it was like he wanted her to watch him. So she did. And she certainly wasn’t going to let another woman take over her happiness. Especially not on the sofa she picked out.

They went to court, she and her ex-husband. He wanted her deemed an unfit mother. The judge, an old man who looked like he believed in Texas justice even with the California flag hanging behind him, pulled down his glasses and eyed her, then cleared his throat and glared at him. “I suppose you haven’t had sex since your divorced.” This flummoxed both her ex-husband and his attorney.

She walked out with her lawyer’s bills paid, and increase in support and more time with her daughter. Still, she was reeling from all that had transpired in the weeks before. Her initial reaction was to move, to run, to hide in shame. Everyone saw everything. How could she ever show her face again? Especially at the school.

But that’s the thing about small towns with money. They hold a lot of secrets.

While she thought she would be judged and shunned by the PTA mothers, they became a protective circle around her. Clearly, they had their own brushes with scandals, secrets they would take to graves. They understood without ever explaining.

She worried about her daughter, what the other children would say. But, it was like it never happened. Aside from what the girl’s father told her. Instead of turning his daughter against her mother, it drew the child closer to her, made the girl her mother’s protector. The judge’s ruling was simply the cherry on the surreal shit sundae this experience was. She wanted nothing more than to put it all behind her. Forget it ever happened.

A year later, when the prison term was handed down, he felt safe again. Felt like he didn’t need to change codes and passwords every week. Stopped covering the camera on his laptop with tape. He felt like a man again, not a molested boy.

It took a lot of work for him to earn her trust back. Nights were spent in her tiny triplex. She wouldn’t go back to his place. He put it on the market. It was her first real estate sale.

It was months before she would allow her daughter to meet him. When she finally did, he knew he would ask her to marry him. He only hoped she would say yes. She did. They made plans for a wedding in late fall.

And then the letters started coming. Addressed to her but at his street number. The new home he had just bought. And, with those letters, everything would change. Again.