She was surprised by the diamonds. Trapped baguettes in gold, they shimmered in miniature rainbows across her wrist. Nessa summed up the cost to be at least two cable or phone bills.
“How did you afford it?” She slipped the bracelet off, packing it away in the velvet box to Jack’s disappointment.
“I’m reprioritizing,” he explained, pulling his wife in for a tender, perhaps slightly desperate hug. “You come first now.”
Never mind that the only jewelry she ever wore was her wedding ring. Nessa didn’t deal in luxuries and ornaments.
Instead, she processed the outcomes in her ever-calculating, anxious mind. “No more pipe, drum, hat or harmonica collections?” Those expenses were at least $800 per month, without waver.
Jack’s brows raised, then crumpled together in confusion– How sincere the confusion, Nessa couldn’t say. “No, it’s all about you now, babe.”
Nessa couldn’t believe it.
While Jack was away on his midnight shift, Nessa logged into their online banking account. She pored over the deposits and withdrawals and the picturesque pie chart that made up the account’s spending report.
Unlike previous months, Jack’s selfish purchases (categorized under “Toys and Hobbies”) were a sliver, not a large wedge on par with groceries and mortgage payments. What happened?
The hats remained spotless on their vintage mannequin heads, the pipes still shone in the mahogany and glass display that Nessa so despised, shining above the sofa. Jack still battered his glittery custom-wrapped drums at full power while she sat staring at the mysteriously benign bank accounts.
All the years of pushing one bill ahead of the other, shifting money from savings to checking. Working overtime to load up the savings account in anticipation of that sudden too-large bill, post-dating checks and pleading with creditors over the phone. Why?
Years ago, distressed by the mounting bills not of her making, Nessa had pleaded with Jack to help her. He took over the bills and rewarded her desperation by finding a solution in ignorance– He ignored the bills for over a year, putting all their debt into collections.
Nessa snatched the responsibility back in fear, restarting the negotiations, penny-pinching and begging. She would never make that mistake again.
How could money suddenly come so easily today? Could he have truly changed?
She imagined illicit encounters, shady dealings, large wads of bills exchanged on street corners. Prostitution, gambling, drugs?
He gave her a new bottle of her favorite perfume, so expensive that she had savored and scrimped it for years, going scentless for over a decade once it ran out.
She now removed the gold top, studded with silver butterflies and flowers, and breathed deeply. Tahitian vanilla, almond, rose, jasmine. No one scent priceless on its own, but delicious together, at $600 an ounce.
“Why?” Nessa asked, in lieu of thanks. Jack frowned.
It was Valentine’s Day; time for a heart-to-heart. Despite her stingy anxious habits from 20 years of uncertainty, Nessa allowed Jack to treat her to a romantic dinner at her favorite restaurant, with white tablecloth, fragrant candles and all.
Nessa wore the ridiculously priced perfume, the brilliant bracelet she felt she didn’t deserve, the haute couture she didn’t ask for. She leaned across the table, taking Jack’s rough hands in hers.
“Why?” she repeated.
“You deserve it,” Jack sputtered. “We can afford it.”
“I’m selling my stuff.”
“You aren’t.” There were still five too many drum kits stacked up in the garage, and Nessa still had to stare at the full complement of Meerschaum pipes displayed next to the piano every time she entered the living room.
“You know I’ve been doing overtime.”
“Not this much.” Nessa waved her glittering wrist in accusation.
“We work different shifts. What would you know? The bills are paid, isn’t that enough? I’m doing this for you.” Jack swirled his silver fork around the creamy remains on the gilt-edged plate, seeking a satisfaction that never arrived.
Meanwhile, Nessa tugged at the diamonds on her wrist, and prayed that her nausea would pass.
“There is nothing to worry about,” she repeated to herself one midnight, as she pulled Jack’s laptop out from under the bed. She was alone in the house, and Jack at work, but still, she worried– About being caught, and about why there was suddenly nothing to worry about.
She pondered the pros and cons.
He loves me.
He lies to me.
I love him,
I don’t know him.
Nessa opened the laptop, determined to know the worst.