by Lara Hahn
'All right, Cass, spill it. What’s this serious matter you wanted to talk to me about?'
Cassandra stirred her coffee, her gaze fixed on the cup. We had met at university fifteen years before and been best friends ever since, but I had never seen her so uneasy.
'Is something wrong with Miles?'
'No, Miles is fine.' She let go of the spoon, which clattered against the rim of her cup, and finally looked at me. 'Julia, you know you can talk to me, right? About anything.'
'Sure, I know. Why are you telling me this?'
She stared at me as if expecting me to say something. I had no idea what she was getting at, so I just stared back; her strange behaviour was worrying me.
'Okay,' she sighed, 'I guess I’ll just have to say it then.'
'I guess you’ll have to.' I tried to defuse the tension with a grin that she rewarded with a stern expression.
What the hell was going on?
'Last night, Miles and I were too lazy to cook, so we went to this pasta place in Covent Garden.' I knew the fancy restaurant she was referring to and wondered if this was all about the silly discussion on expense cutbacks her husband and I had got into at dinner last Friday.
'Look,' I threw up my hands in an apologetic gesture, 'it really wasn’t my intention to tell you how to spend your money and if I offended you, I’m really sorry.'
'What are you talking about?'
'This isn’t about the money discussion?'
'What? No.' She sipped her coffee and placed the cup carefully on the table. 'Anyway...Last night, there were no parking spaces in front of the restaurant, so we had to park a few blocks away in Bedford Street. And when we got out of the car, we saw you leaving the Blame Gloria...'
Damn. 'So?' I kept my tone casual.
'So? What the fuck, Julia!' Her voice became Shrill. ‘There was a man with you who was obviously NOT Ben. I saw you kissing him!'
Heat sloshed against my chest and crawled up my neck. 'Please, calm down. I can explain-'
Her hand shot towards me and covered mine, gently squeezing. 'Sorry, I didn’t want to scream at you. It’s just that Ben and you always seemed so happy together and seeing you with this other guy… I’m still so shocked!'
'I know, but it’s really not-'
'Do you love him?'
'No, of course not!'
'But why did you kiss him?' she asked, confused. 'Was it for the thrill or something?'
'Among other things,' I said.
Cassandra pulled her hand away as a crease formed between her puckered brows. 'Ben will be devastated if he finds out you’ve been seeing someone behind his back.'
'No, he won’t.'
'How can you be so cool about it?!' She cleared her throat, then slowly ran her palm over the wooden table top. 'Look,' her voice softened, 'it’s not that I don’t understand. You married young, and maybe you think you missed out on certain experiences.
'I know relationships can be tough and that sometimes you just want to break things off. But is a little sexual adventure really worth giving up everything you have?'
'Stop, Cass, listen for a second. You’ve got this all wrong. Neither is Ben going to be devastated, nor is our marriage at stake.'
'If you think you can keep this affair a secret, think again. Miles and I have already seen you; someday someone else will see you and they’ll tell Ben- '
'Which won’t be a problem, because Ben already knows.'
She blinked. 'What does that mean he knows?'
'Look. At first, we weren’t sure if this lifestyle would work for us, so we kept it a secret. And later, somehow the opportunity to talk about it never came up.'
'To talk about what, Julia?'
'Ben and I ... we ... we live in an open relationship.'
'What? Since when?'
'For a little over two years- '
'Two YEARS?!' Her eyes widened in disbelief. 'Are you kidding me?!'
'That must be quite surprising, I guess.'
'No shit.' She still made a face as if I had told her I was actually from Mars. 'Wow, I mean WOW. And here I was thinking you were just having a fling.' Cassandra took another sip and her cheeks flushed slightly. 'I know it’s Ben and your private business, but why didn’t you ever say a word? After all these years, I thought I knew you as well as myself, and suddenly there’s this whole other side of you I didn’t know about... It’s a strange feeling.'
'Yeah, I know,' I said, fiddling with the spoon that lay beside my cup. 'When I first started dating other men, it was a kind of experiment. I didn’t really know what to make of the whole open relationship thing myself... If it was okay to live like that. So I guess that’s why I kept quiet about it.'
'And because you thought I wouldn’t be okay with it.'
'No... maybe... I guess, I thought you wouldn’t understand. I mean, it’s not something married couples usually do, is it?'
She snorted. 'You mean those uptight, backward couples like Miles and I are?'
'No, I never said that!'
'Yeah, all right. I get it.' She waved her hand dismissively and gazed out the window. Two little girls on their bicycles passed by and their joyful laughter drifted through the tilted window.
'Cass, please- '
'You know what?' she turned back to me and looked me straight in the eye. 'You’re right. I wouldn’t sleep with other people and I would go crazy if Miles did. When I married him, I did so with the conviction that he would be the last man I’ll be with for the rest of my life. For me, sex is special and something I only share with him.
'But!' her voice trembled with anger, 'I would never judge you for having other desires, even if I don’t fully understand them.' She shook her head and said, 'I’m not one of those assholes who shames anyone who doesn’t conform to stuffy social expectations, and it fucking hurts to know you feel that way about me!'
'Of course I don’t think that! I was scared, okay?! You’re my best friend and I couldn’t bear the thought that you might see me differently.'
'Damn right, nitwit: I’m your best friend! So you should have had a little faith in me.'
Cassandra crossed her arms. 'If you act like one, I’ll call you one.'
'Fair enough, I guess.'
For a brief second, we just stared at each other. 'I’m really sorry,' I said, pressing a hand against my chest. 'I never wanted you to find out this way and I’m ashamed that I gave you the impression you weren’t open-minded enough. I didn't know what to make of it myself for a long time, and I think I was projecting my own insecurity onto you.'
'Sounds like something you’d do,' she said flippantly, but her lips twitched in amusement. She flicked her hair over her shoulder and leaned back in her chair. 'Since we’re on such a good roll now, are there any other revelations you’d like to share with me? Any kids I don’t know about, or are you hoarding millions in your bank account, perhaps?'
I felt my shoulders relax, which I only now realised had been tense all along. I shook my head and smiled. 'No, I’m afraid you know all my secrets now. Will you forgive me, Cass?'
'Eventually. But only if you spill some of your dirty secrets in more detail,' she said, winking at me.
I laughed. 'It’s kind of a relief that you finally know. Honestly, there’s so much I want to talk to you about.'
'And you have no idea how curious I am to hear it.' She smiled and looked down at her cup. 'But maybe we need something stronger for these kinds of stories, what do you think?'
'I think there’s an open bottle of Chardonnay in the fridge.'
I grabbed two wine glasses and the bottle from the fridge and put everything on the table.
'I’ll text Miles that it’s getting late,' she said, typing on her phone as I poured.
'All right,' she said and put her phone away before she reached for one glass. 'Tell me everything!'
My stomach tingled with excitement. Until now, I had never realised how much I had missed talking to her about my experiences. 'Where should I start?'
She sipped the wine, her eyes sparkling with delight. 'What a question, silly. At the beginning, of course!'
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