The coffee shop sat on the edge of the city, where nobody would recognize us, making me feel like I was the one cheating. The paneled walls were an ocean turquoise with pastel mermaids, sea turtles, and fish hanging from them. Blue-bulbed Christmas lights were strewn along the walls and overhead. They reflected in Kristen’s eyes as she sat down. “You’re Jay?”
“Yeah,” I said. “I’d say nice to meet you, but—“
“But my husband is screwing your wife. No need to be polite, right?” She exhaled deeply and hung her coat on the back of her chair.
“Right,” I said. I forced a smile while my jaws clenched and unclenched. Kristen was much younger than my wife, her dark hair hanging in curly tendrils around her slim face. “I didn’t realize you were…“ I trailed off and looked down at her stomach. I wasn’t sure what was acceptable to say to the wife of my wife’s lover.
“Pregnant. It’s our first. Had I known my husband was a scumbag…” Kristen trailed off. The reflection of the Christmas lights in her watery green eyes, made them look like angry ocean waves. She looked at least six months pregnant, her stomach stretching at the material of her sweater.
I reached out to pat her hand, but it didn’t feel right, so I put my hand back on my side of the table. If I were the type to cheat, maybe I would have picked someone like Kristen, but I wasn’t. Maybe every relationship has one cheater and in this one it was my wife.
“Can you believe this?” She asked, her voice weak from crying.
“Yes. I can tell you’re having trouble making the leap.” My wife and I hadn’t been close for a couple of years, having sex only when we’d been drinking. Maybe deep down I expected an affair.
Kristen laughed bitterly. “How did you find out?” She’d rubbed below her eyes, spreading her mascara into dark circles. She looked exhausted.
“I don’t know how to put this. I saw your husband…” I paused, looking away, kneading at my knuckles, the popping sound emitting from my fingers almost as soothing as the violin I used them to play. “He had his mouth…on my wife.” I could feel my face redden at the memory of coming home, wanting nothing more than to take off my stuffy suit and instead finding a man’s face between her bent legs, her eyes rolled back in her head. The only thing she had on were high heels, her naked body lost in the depths of our bunched up comforter. When I spoke, she scooted back into a sitting position and the man scrambled around for his pants. It was the deacon from our church. “Both of you get the fuck out of my house,” I said, as calmly as possible.
I chose not to go into detail with Kristen, who shook her head, pressing her fingers to her forehead. Each time she moved her head back and forth, more tears gathered on her cheeks. Finally she said, “How old is she?”
“Forty-nine. And your husband?”
“Thirty-four. She must look amazing. I mean…I’m nineteen years younger.” I shrugged. “I know this probably sounds crazy, but…I just need to see for myself why my husband would cheat, you know?” She looked into my eyes, to see if I understood. I pulled out my phone and showed her a picture of my wife in a blue dress that matched her eyes at a wedding the summer before. “I’ve seen her at church. She’s pretty.” I put the phone back in my pocket and Kristen sat there for a minute, her eyes moving back and forth in thought. “Damn it!” she said, pounding her fist on the table. The saltshaker fell over and rolled off the table. This time I did rest my hand on hers.
I knew what her husband looked like, a younger version of myself. My hair, now silver at the temples, was otherwise brown, like his. I played basketball on the weekends and went for a quick run every night after work. If anything, he was a little heavier.
“What are we going to do? I’m not just going to divorce him quietly. He stands up there and preaches and then has the nerve to cheat on his pregnant wife.” Kristen looked up at me, the tears from her eyes gone. “I want people to know.”
I looked back at her and nodded. “I have an idea,” I said.
“I’m in,” Kristen said, not requiring an explanation.
“Do me a favor and text me a picture. Embarrassing, if possible.”
We met a couple days later at the same coffee shop, this time during the day. With ocean sounds coming from the speakers and sunlight coming through the paneled windows and shining on our table, it felt like we were on the beach, instead of in Des Moines, Iowa, on Christmas Eve day.
Kristen smiled when she saw me, her cheekbones glowing as if the sun itself had reached down and kissed them, snowflakes nestled in the tendrils of her hair. I didn’t know if a little time had allowed her to feel better or if it was the prospect of revenge on her husband. “Hey. How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Fine. As good as I’m going to given the situation.” Kristen took off her coat and scarf and set them in what little lap she had left. “So…what’s the plan?”
I pulled out a few versions of the flier I’d designed since the last time we’d met. Kristen looked at each one intently before tapping on the middle one with her finger. On the left side was a mug shot of my wife from the OWI she’d received after a work Christmas party two years prior. On the right, a picture of Kristen’s husband holding up his deacon robe and flashing his plaid boxers. “When did this happen?”
“He was just goofing around one day before church saying, ‘What if my robe flies up Marilyn Monroe-style in front of the church?’ I took a picture with my phone and told him to put some pants on. Little did I know, he really does have a problem keeping his pants on.”
“That is going to bite him in the ass,” I said. In between the pictures, I had typed, “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” An arrow indicated to turn the flier over where a third picture took up the entire page. I’d hired a private detective to follow my wife and Kristen’s husband around the day after I met Kristen and take a picture of whatever he could catch them doing, which happened to be making out in the secluded alley behind the church. Stained glass windows sat directly behind his shoulder — red, blue, and green panes almost glowing in the flash of the camera, a dumpster to the left of my wife.
“My husband doesn’t know I know. I’ve been lying awake next to the jerk every night just so I can see the shock on his face. When he tried to…” Kristen looked down at the table and took a deep breath. “When he tried to touch me, I just told him I felt sick, which couldn’t be more from the truth.”
“Jesus.” We sat there for a moment in silence. “How are you going to get out of the Christmas Eve service anyway?”
Kristen contorted her face in pain, placed her hands on her belly, and said in a weak voice, “I’m not feeling well. I just got sick.”
I couldn’t help but laugh and Kristen laughed with me.
Snow had started falling again when Kristen and I met at the church. The sun had gone down and we stood outside watching. The church was dark inside except for the glow of hundreds of candles swaying back and forth. Faintly, we heard the congregation singing “What Child Is This.” Kristen sighed. “We better get busy. They usually sing this toward the end.” We started putting a flier under everybody’s windshield wipers. I probably did twice as many. I could tell Kristen was tired, from the weight of her child and the changes tonight would bring. When a picture of our spouses peered into every car windshield, Kristen and I stood at the front of the church again, a thick stack of fliers under each of our arms. “Ready?” Kristen asked.
Kristen and I snuck into the church, through a hallway, and finally to a door with a staircase behind it. The staircase led to the bell on the flat rooftop. When we got up there, it was windy and snowflakes swirled around us. “Be careful, it’s slick,” I said, reaching for her hand.
We waited twenty minutes, leaning over the castle-like pillars lining the edge of the roof. Although her hand was warm, she shivered, so I took off my coat and layered it onto hers. When the bell rang, we both jumped a little. It had been so quiet before.
People started coming outside, standing around and chatting despite the cold. When I saw my wife and the deacon standing beside each other on the sidewalk, I nodded and we hoisted our arms upward and let the stacks of paper fall. As they spiraled down like snowflakes, people looked up. “What the—?” we heard someone say. Others caught them or picked one up, but I was waiting for my wife and the deacon to see them. My wife saw it first, gasping and looking up at the roof, but she couldn’t see me in the darkness. She shoved the flier at the deacon, who stood stone-faced. The congregation started to look at them, cover their mouths. An old woman shouted, “How could you?” The priest’s face turned red and he let go of his flier as he stormed over to the deacon. “You are no longer welcome in this church. Remove your robe.”
“I—I don’t think that would be a good idea.”
“Remove your robe,” the priest said, louder this time. The deacon slowly removed his robe, tossed it in the priest’s waiting hand, and hurried off to his car in nothing but a t-shirt, boxers, and church shoes. The priest’s mouth hung open and some of the congregation gasped.
Kristen smiled, her red cheeks and snowy eyelashes lit up by the reflection of the snow. She squeezed my hand before wrapping her arms around my neck. “Thank you,” she whispered. Before I got a chance to say anything, she looked me in the eyes and kissed me so softly, had I closed my eyes, I would have thought a snowflake landed on my lips. We stayed up there watching until the last car had gone.
Mikaela Shea received her MFA in Fiction Writing from Columbia College Chicago and was recently a writer-in-residence at Ragdale Foundation. She has published stories in Midwestern Gothic, Copperfield Review, Chicago Literati, Hypertext Magazine, and others. Mikaela won the Editor’s Choice Award for Fiction at Waypoints Magazine and Superstition Review‘s First Page Contest. She also published a children’s book at the State Historical Society of Iowa. Mikaela is currently writing a novel and is Editor-in-Chief of 3Elements Review. She lives in Iowa with her husband and baby boy.