The final chapter of our three-part “Summer Read” mini-novel series. Read Parts I and II of “A Fine Day for a Divorce” in the July and August issues of Change magazine, in print or online at www.ChangeMediaOnline.com.
The night sparkled beyond the windows of their hotel suite. The houses across the bay, the lamps strung over the marina walkways, and the few boats that moved slowly far below gave off light that counterpointed the blackness of the sky and water. Near the hotel, tall streetlights glowed bright yellow. Cars traveling along the highway lit the road with moving beams of white.
Liz sighed at its beauty. Then she turned to look at Peter, who stood by the desk in the sitting room with his laptop open, and wondered how she was going to get through the weekend.
“Do you mind if I go out and sit on the balcony?” Peter asked, seeing the expression on her face. His voice sounded distant, as if he was mentally far away. “I’ll be out there for a while. I won’t bother you.” Without waiting for an answer, he stepped out of the room and disappeared into the darkness. As soon as the glass door closed, Liz grabbed her own laptop.
As if he knew she needed him, Andrei was waiting online for her. It was almost always thus. Liz felt a burst of relief.
Liz told him about the evening. Andrei did not respond. Instead, he pulled her into his own magical world, describing a walk he had taken in the park late that afternoon. The sunlight had streamed through the trees, making the leaves glitter, blending the colors of a hidden patch of woods into a perfect palette of green, red, orange and black, the patterns changing with each step he took. As the afternoon deepened the birds began singing as the sun approached the horizon. He dreamed of sharing such moments with her; they would be together always once she was divorced. Liz’s heart raced as she read his words.
And then Andrei’s conversation drifted into an area he had never gone before. His words became erotic, and the swift beating of Liz’s heart was not the only physical reaction Liz began to have.
Andrei’s words became specific, as if he was writing the script that Peter followed during those times when her pleasure was most intense, and Liz became filled with hope that when she finally could be together with Andrei their love would be perfect. And all the while, Liz grew more and more aroused, feeling as if she would faint if she were not allowed a release.
And then, without warning, Andrei broke the spell. The battery on his laptop was dying, he said, and he had to move from where he was and go plug it in. It would only take a few moments, and they would return to the magical place he had taken them.
She nodded, as if he could see her gesture.
Andrei’s chat icon went to off-line status, and Liz caught her breath anxiously as she prepared to wait.
The glass door to the balcony opened, and Liz groaned inside. Peter walked in and strode purposefully toward her. She wanted to scream and tell him to go away, but she quickly closed her laptop instead, so that he would not see the words that had been on the screen.
“I want you, Liz. One last time,” he pleaded. “Give me one last time.” Peter came closer.
“No!” she said firmly, but her heart was still beating, and the unsatisfied desire for Andrei roiled her thoughts into a whirlwind she could not grasp or control.
“It will be months before our divorce is final, months,” Peter insisted. “It will be a new life for you and the beginning of no life for me. Please, Liz, one last time. Just close your eyes and make believe it is Andrei. Just close your eyes.”
But Liz didn’t close her eyes. She stared helplessly at the beautiful face that came closer and closer, while she thought of a man whose face she did not know, and dissociated the image before her eyes from the husband she no longer loved. Liz took a deep breath, and surrendered to the desire that beat inside her head so loudly she could no longer hear her own thoughts.
Liz lay back in the hotel bed, her breathing gradually returning to normal.
She had been taken—no, she had taken herself—to a place she had never been before. But now, in what should have been a happy afterglow, she felt dirty, as if she had defiled something beautiful. She had betrayed Andrei.
Peter still lay in bed beside her, not moving.
“I love you, Liz,” he whispered.
“Get away from me, Peter,” she hissed, without looking at him. “I made a mistake.”
Peter did not reply. He got out of bed and went out to the balcony.
Liz stared up at the ceiling, frozen, afraid to touch her computer.
What now? she wondered. How could she possibly tell Andrei? How could she not? What kind of foundation had she created for their future?
She covered her face with her hands and cried.
A voice inside her head said: You’ve never even met Andrei, your relationship with him isn’t real, and you owe him no loyalty…
She quickly stifled that thought and hesitantly reached for her laptop. Perhaps she would be lucky; he would no longer be there. If for some reason they didn’t communicate for a few days, she could pretend tonight never happened, and never tell Andrei.
But Liz still had to see if Andrei was online. If she disappeared from the Internet for a few days, while she was away with her husband, Andrei would become suspicious.
Gingerly, she tapped the keys to get into her chat program.
Andrei was waiting for her.
Where were you? Andrei asked.
Peter came in and demanded to talk to me, she replied.
Are you sure? You were gone so long. I was starting to worry about you, my love.
I’m here now, she reassured him.
Today, Andrei wrote, I wanted you to see what I was seeing. I ached with the desire to share it with you. I want you to look out the hotel window. Can you?
Liz slid out of bed and walked to the Jacuzzi by the window. She sat on its edge and looked out onto the dark water below. Two boats moved slowly north, a third moved more quickly to the south. To her left, a car made its way along the highway in the direction of the hotel.
Yes, she typed.
Liz watched the letters from Andrei’s typing move across her screen.
There are a few boats on the water, moving slowly across its blackness, he wrote.
Liz smiled as she thought of him trying to imagine what she was seeing, and how well he had guessed.
To the left, Andrei went on, a car is about to pass the hotel.
Liz jerked her head to the left and shivered as that lone car whizzed past her window’s view and out of sight.
It’s gone now, Andrei continued, but the boats are still there. Two are moving north, and the one moving south is just passing the marina, its light moving along the water, dancing with the lights of the docks.
He’s not imagining this, Liz thought, her throat tightening with fear, as the southward moving boat glided past the marina. He’s actually seeing it, through my eyes.
Then she glanced at the glass door out into the patio. Peter was leaning over his laptop, typing.
Liz’s computer slipped from her lap and fell to the thick rug. She jumped up, ran to the balcony door, pushed it open and stepped outside. Peter, oblivious to her presence, continued typing furiously.
“What are you doing?” she demanded harshly.
Peter was so startled that his laptop almost fell from him, also.
“You didn’t read my description of the water,” he said weakly.
“What are you doing?” she demanded again, still not understanding what was happening.
“I can’t be the man you want, Liz, so I created him.” Peter took a deep breath. “Maybe no one ever wanted to pay me for the characters I could create in my head, but at least I was able to create one that my wife fell in love with. Rather gratifying, I would say.”
“How long would you have kept this up?”
“Forever, if you had taken my suggestion this afternoon, and continued your online relationship and stayed married to me. You didn’t, so I had to bring things to a head.”
Liz swallowed deeply.
“So you were Andrei all along,” she said,
“No,” Peter corrected. “I’m not Andrei. I created Andrei. There’s a difference. I could never be him because I’m not him. I’m a guy who goes to work everyday, comes home, eats dinner, and watches sports on TV.”
“You’re a lot more than that, Peter,” Liz said, shuddering.
“Are you still going to leave me, Liz?”
“I’m afraid to leave you, Peter. I might meet a man someday, fall in love, and suddenly find you popping out of his skin.” She laughed crazily, an unbalanced laugh. She leaned over the balcony railing and looked out into the distance.
“You look beautiful tonite, framed by the night,” Peter said.
Liz Harmon looked over the railing, down 15 stories to the dark ground below. I’ll never escape him, she thought. He’ll always find a way to burrow deep into my soul. Unless…She imagined the ground rushing up to meet her, felt dizzy, and allowed that dizziness to wash over and engulf her, giving her a sense of satisfaction.
Then she stepped back and wrapped her arms around herself, shivering.
Peter rose from his chair.
“I’m cold, Peter, so cold.”
He wrapped his arms around her.
“Keep me warm, Peter, keep me warm.”
“Always,” he whispered, pressing his lips to her hair and gently kissing her head.