Chloe took a small sip of her watered-down white wine spritzer. It was far more sprite than wine but it allowed Chloe to fit in with the crowd at the party. The Annual Children’s Hosptial Charity Auction was a standard event she and Nathan had attended for years. It had always been a perfect night. She and Nate made a full day of it even though it was only thirty minutes from their house. They called a babysitter in overnight, booked a hotel room in the city, and just enjoyed one night out as Nathan and Chloe versus Mom and Dad who still had a curfew because the babysitter needed to be home by one. Clearing her throat, she let out a deep breath trying to relax. She felt like an outsider even though the room was filled with people she knew. They laughed and talked while Chloe just stood off to the side staring at the activity. Nathan had not left her side all night except for now. Someone ha needed to speak to Nathan and he needed a moment alone. Any other time this might have seemed odd. Tonight, she was happy to have a second away from his watchful gaze.
Soft music from a piano and harp filled the room. There was no words but the beat felt like a somber melody instead of a classical piece. The ambient yellow glow from the dimmed lights and fireplaces of the french bistro inspired design did not seem to give off enough warmth to the room. Chloe rubbed her arms brushing the chill off. Was it real or imagined, she could not tell. All Chloe Harland knew was that she was counting the minutes until she would arrive back home and able to go back to bed. Nate had forced her to come out with him. He had been forcing her to do a lot of things recently. Most probably because Nathan was scheduled to return to the Odin sometime soon. Chloe was only biding her time until he left. Once he was gone, she would be able to recover her own way from the events six weeks ago. Nathan was dealing with the loss in his own way, yet somehow he had found a way to do this entering the world of the living. Chloe needed time to herself before she re-entered life.
“How are you honey,” Sam Michaelson reached out rubbing her shoulder. He was a long time associate of Nathan from the hospital. They had kids the same age as Chloe and Nathan. Since that day, all interactions with him and his family has came to an abrupt halt. Too many good times, too many happy memories between the Michaelson and Harland family created a crushing obstacle for anything but small talk.
“Good,” Chloe plastered her fake smile on her face letting her eyes drift to Nathan a few feet away talking to a group of doctors from the hospital. Somehow, Nate was able to keep his back to Chloe as he talked with the group of doctors yet still find a way to look back every few moments. Her nod seemed to assure him she was okay. He pointed to his watch giving her a soft smile. It was that cue between married people developed after years of being together. She was to count to sixty and then extricate him from the conversation. This could not come at a more opportune time. She needed to distance herself from Sam. “I got the invitation from Laura about Denise’s party. Logan would love to come. I am sorry I didn’t RSVP but,” she felt her throat tighten. Birthday parties were always a whole family event. There was no way she ould show up without Maddie but saying this would only cause her to breakdown and Sam to feel uncomfortable. Luckily, Michaelson gave her a clean excuse.
“We never doubted you weren’t coming. It’s a power girls theme. Denise is all about the nerf guns so this time Logan and Brady won’t get in trouble for throwing things at the girls,” Sam joked. His smile was genuine remembering all the good times Chloe seemed no longer able to find.
“So no time out station,” Chloe managed a weak joke quickly drinking a large gulp of her spritzer.
“Oh, I didn’t say that,” Sam let out a bubble of laughter. “I just said that this time they can shoot the birthday girl.” For a brief second life seemed to return to normal. Choe took a breath that didn’t seem to be a physical effort. If she could have held onto this second, maybe she could have made it through the conversation. Instead, Chloe noticed Laura making her way over to them. Talking to Sam was one thing. Talking to Laura was something different.
“Excuse me,” Chloe made a show of pointing to Nathan a few feet away. “Duty calls. He gave me the high sign to rescue him. Duty calls,” she touched Sam’s arm with a soft smile before slipping away just as his wife arrived. In the back of her mind, Chloe vaguely heard Laura ask Sam how Chloe was doing. Whether this conversation was real or imagined didn’t matter. Everyone said something to that accord when they left her or Nate’s presence. Weaving between the half a dozen people separating them, Chloe reached out to tap her husband’s shoulder when a hand firmly grasped her wrist pulling her onto the small heated balcony next to the reception room. If she had not been on so many drugs, her reaction might have been faster to stop this. The heater fought off the worst of the cold March chill. Still, the icy air felt like needles on her arms and legs.
“I’m sorry baby,” Ben rubbed her arms seeing the goosebumps covering them. “I just haven’t been able to get a moment alone with you all night. I was coming over when Michaelson interrupted.” Taking her hand, Ben moved her two steps over to the portable heater which held to glasses of liquor. One was a lemon drop martini and the other a stiff scotch. “I have tried for weeks to get in touch with you honey,” he handed her the drink. It felt icy in her hand as she raised it to her lips drinking half in a large swallow. The liquor went down so easy. It also showed just how weak the two drinks Nate had given her were.
“My phone broke. Nate broke my phone,” she edited her statement to be more precise. The anti-depressants mixing with the alcohol were finally relaxing her enough to dull the parts of her mind that needed it. Her statement did not need further explanation for Ben. The calls to the house, her sisters, the reasons Chloe had not sought him out were crystal clear now.
“That’s fine baby. Give me the number for your new one. I will only reply to you when you text me. When he leaves we can go out to dinner and talk about things,” Ben polished off his drink setting it down on the marble tray next to them.
“No,” Chloe said swallowing the rest of her drink. The liquid now coursing through her body let Chloe have the courage to do this, in a room next to most of her and Nate’s friends.
“Baby I don’t mean in town. I get it that discretion is going to be needed. Maybe we go to that seafood place out of town you loved,” he gave her a small smile reaching out to caress her arm.
“No I mean it’s over. All of it,” Chloe said.
Ben’s hand froze on her arm as his face wrinkled up in confusion. “Honey I know you are going through a lot but,”
“But nothing,” she immediately cut him off. “It’s over. I need to move on. I should not have let it happen in the first place. I love Nathan. I always have. I always will,” she looked at Ben with a neutral expression.
“And I love Jayne but,” Ben immediately began to feel a knot forming in his stomach. His hand closed tighter on her arm as his finger stroked her bicep gently. He wanted to take her in his arms but the balcony was too public.
“But what?” Chloe’s tone became sharper. Her eyes took on a serious stare. “You leave Jayne. I leave Nate. That was never in the plans. What we did was a mistake. We were a mistake. What we did was not out of love or passion. It was two stupid people being spoiled,” Chloe’s tone was firm. There was no wiggle room to be interpreted which was making Ben panic.
“Chloe,” he drew out her name. Ben had heard Chloe was taking a lot of drugs recently which might be explaining her current stance. Yes, it was light and fun. That is why there should be no reason to end it.
“Nathan knows and god,” she looked up at the black night sky sprinkled with stars,”why he is still with me I have no idea.” After a long pause, she looked Ben in the eyes. “I did something terrible to him and I will work every day for the rest of my life to apologize for it. I love my husband.”
“I love Jayne,” Ben countered.
“Goodbye Ben,” Chloe gave him a single glance before turning to head back into the party.
“Chloe it can’t be over. Let me call you in a day or so,” Ben pulled her back some. Chloe was the perfect distraction. They both had families. They both had spouses they would never leave. This just gave them an outlet for the humdrum of a married life.
“Ben if you ever want to speak to me do it in front of my husband. Don’t call. Don’t contact me. You are free to act like you never knew me,” Chloe said. “For some reason, Nate is giving me another chance with him and I am not going to lose it.” Her voice was firm with conviction. Nothing about her tone or posture indicated Chloe would ever change her mind. Tugging her arm slightly it fell from Ben’s grasp as she set her glass down and headed back into the party.
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