Excerpt for Obvious Deception ~ Reviving Anew and Much Stronger by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

This page may contain adult content. If you are under age 18, or you arrived by accident, please do not read further.

OVIOUS DECEPTION

Reviving Anew and Much Stronger



Olya Amanova

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.



Copyright © 2017 Olya Amanova

All rights reserved.



No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.



Follow me!

http://www.facebook.com/OlyaAmanovaBooks

https://www.linkedin.com/in/olyaamanova

https://instagram.com/olyaamanova

https://twitter.com/olya_amanova



1.

It was not that his life was unsatisfying, but each day after day used to begin, continue and end exactly the same as the previous one... Maybe that's why Steven used to always forget the date?

- "What day is it, darling?" - he asked indifferently as always, fastening a tie in front of the mirror - as always unsuccessfully.

- “Friday, darling,” - Kate replied from the kitchen with the same information, as usual, already rustling towards him with her soft slippers. Something was wrong.

- "Aren’t you going to work?" - he looked suspiciously at her fluffy morning robe and her messy hair. – “Someone is not such an exemplary worker anymore, huh?” - he grinned and winked at his wife.

- "Oh, stop it." - she said wearily, adjusting his tie. – “It's just that in our company, exemplary workers are often given a day off before important conferences.”

The mirror informed Steven in time that he could not hide his astonished face and would not be able to do it anyway - Kate was already looking at him inquisitively, and he immediately took a defensive position:

- "And isn’t it normal not to inform me about important affairs when I have been talking about Harry’s upcoming birthday, which, I would like to note, will be next Saturday. Do you remember my friend Harry and his family?

- "Of course, I remember your friend. But is it normal to inform me so blatantly about the invitation at the last moment, when I’ve been talking all week about my conference, which, I’m asking you to note, will be held next Saturday?

Kate looked up from the mirror and peered at her husband’s face with a laugh. He sighed secretly in his heart - the storm passed. So, he could feel safe until the next evening, for sure. Although, it was impossible not to play along with the joke, so he collected all his pseudo-actor's skill into a fist and, having cast a dull look on his face, began to mutter, dusting invisible specks from his jacket:

- “It's a pity to upset the guys - the seats are already nailed down and the food is purchased. Well, that means that someone will get more...

- “Come on, you're not going to stay home because of me?”

"Bingo!" - Steven's self-exclaimed happily in his head.

- “And what do you suggest?” - an inventive husband was not letting go of his opinion. – “Should I have fun while you are working hard at work?”

- “I don’t see anything wrong in having fun with a friend.”

For a minute, Steven stood, looking at himself and Kate in the mirror. Time had changed them so much. This thought, which recently has been overtaking him so often in the most unexpected moments, almost led him away from the already nearly won victory.

- "Do you really think so?" - he finally broke the silence, having barely reached the boundary that if he crossed, he would clearly lose control of the situation. But he got used to dealing with such cases during the years of his marriage, so there were no problems.

- "Why not?" - she answered unconstrainedly, stepping out of the way and letting him pass to the front door. - "Go, or you'll be late for work."

- "See you in the evening, my dear!"

- “Have a nice day!”

She kissed him on the cheek, seeing him off. The same as always.

Steven loved his wife. At least, he always thought so. She was a reliable companion in life. She could finish his sentences. They rarely had quarrels. They have been living in perfect harmony for five years and no one seemed to think that anything could be different. And why?

The only thing that used to stress Steven out, was Adam Gosling - Kate's father. No, he lived separately, was independent financially and emotionally, did not require anything outrageous, and did not speak out against their marriage. On the contrary, he was quite respectful of Steven, who had a respectable job in an office. The only problem was that his work was clearly not the best.

Adam Gosling had a prosperous business. He was a successful private entrepreneur. What was everyone shutting their eyes on, including Kate? There was something more than just a legitimate business. Something for which entrepreneurship was only a cover, a means of money laundering. This question was never raised in the family, and Steven was grateful to the father-in-law for this - it was not necessary to involve him and his daughter in these dirty criminal activities.

Steven could close his eyes to all this and would do it if he hadn’t been noticing these scams with cars, money, which were coming and going devil knows where, especially when some of them, and a significant sum, suddenly became a gift to the couple on the anniversary of their wedding, a gift for New Year’s or for absolutely no reason. Something was preventing Steven from taking this money, but he was afraid of speaking to his relative.

It was not the first time that this question tormented him. He was trying to discuss it with Kate, but all was in vain. Additionally, there was something else that could not but cause stress. Something that was rising from within and was making him look at things that were surrounding him invariably every day from a new perspective.

- "How old are you, my friend?" - he asked himself sometimes, looking in the mirror, when he was sure that his wife would not hear him. In general, he had begun to talk to himself quite often lately and he was already worried.

He did not want to answer his own question honestly. Maybe he would even try to convince himself that he was a little less than thirty, but the shadows under his tired eyes and the skin around his neck were throwing a bitter truth in the face of their possessor: the line was crossed. Maybe even a large part of his life was behind him.

Having realized, in time, that he had been sitting several minutes, thinking about the unhappy distribution of his own affairs and completely forgetting about his work, Steven shook his head to dispel his depressive mood and concentrate, or at least pretend that he was sorting papers.

Finally, what if this all was a bluff? All these labels about those who were "over thirty"? Who needed this at all? Finally, who would dictate to an adult how to live and when to bury oneself?!

But an even harsher question - "What are you doing with your life?" – was bothering him incessantly. It invariably followed the question about his age. And Steven could not answer this question either telling the truth or lying. He didn’t know what to say or even lie to himself.

He wakes up in the morning. Kate fastens his tie and always kisses him the same way, always on the left cheek. He spends eight hours a day at work, turning off his whole personality and intellect. Then he comes home and receives a kiss on his right cheek, eats his supper and lies down on the sofa reading a book or watching a stupid TV show until he falls asleep to get up in the morning and again fasten a tie and get a kiss on the left cheek...

Could this continue until his death? Until his fingers get tired of fastening his tie, or his cheek gets tired of receiving its daily kiss?

"What do you miss?" - a new question used to come after these reflections. “In fact,” - he thought, - “He had everything he could dream about: work, home, prosperity, status and a loving wife. What else was there to dream about? About growth? About personality? But the stable career growth was already provided for years to come, and all the most comfortable conditions already existed for his personality. Did he need more?

Behind such philosophizing, Steven did not notice how the work day ended. Another useless grain of sand in the useless hourglass of life. "Paid eight hours, for which I have not done any good to anybody. Office rat. Good doggie." - he said sullenly to himself.

Kiss on the right cheek with the same pressure and smell of lipstick, as before. Supper. Quite a good one, although today it was worse than yesterday. And what was yesterday? "God, what am I spending my life on?"

TV until midnight. The long-awaited dream.

"Tomorrow everything will be different."

Tomorrow began quite soon. It seemed that the alarm clock rang as soon as he closed his eyes. Seven hours of sleep had flown by in an instant. "Is it that I can’t wait for the upcoming party?" - Steven was surprised and, as if waiting for some gift from fate, looked out into a suspiciously silent corridor (the bed was already empty and cold), and then to the kitchen.

- “There it is!” – a note was on the refrigerator:

- "I'll be home at five. Do not sit too long and, be kind, do not drink too much: it's bad for you! Breakfast is on the stove. With love, Kate."

- "Thank you!" - Steven replied to the note for some reason, and, becoming lost in thought, suddenly laughed to himself. - "Today will be completely different than yesterday."

Steven spent a good three hours searching for a nice gift in the local stores and decided to go with a book. A science-fiction novel about aliens. "Stupidity!" - he would proclaim arrogantly if he were here with his wife, but he was alone and something in his heart flashed when he saw the old writer’s familiar name on the bookshelf: back in school and in early university years he and Harry used to read a lot of this nonsense about aliens. So why not let an old friend feel young again on his birthday?

Paying, he involuntarily thought that he was buying this, because he himself would like to be given the same present. But his wife used to give him unnecessary gifts. She didn’t know his hobbies, maybe never was interested...

Actually, he didn’t know her hobbies too. This thought dawned on him already at the exit from the bookshop when he was taking a taxi (despite his wife's demands not to drink too much, he was not sure that he could resist the temptation. After all, she herself, said “to have fun with a friend”). They had not even gotten to know each other after having lived together happily for five years! What can be said about such life?

- "Where are we going, boss?" - the taxi driver asked tiredly, when Steven, having fallen into his thoughts again, didn’t answer for a long time.

He apologized and gave the driver the address and, clutching the book wrapped in shiny paper more tightly in his hands, tried again to get rid of the obsessive thoughts creeping into his head.

Despite the fact that it was relatively early, there were a lot of Harry's guests and they had already drunk a lot.

- "Do not get old in your heart, brother!" - Steven gave a present to his old friend without long reflection, hugging him and slapping him on the shoulder. After thinking, he added: "It doesn’t matter if half of your life is behind you..."

- "Do you know where to go?" - Harry laughed good-naturedly and finally looked at the gift. - "I cannot believe you still remember!"

- "Aren’t you glad?"

- “Are you kidding me?” - a friend called without waiting for an answer – “Let's get acquainted!”

- “Get acquainted?” - Steven did not understand.

Frustrated by his friend's incomprehension, Harry sighed in contrition and rolled his eyes pathetically. Steven barely held back his laughter - he had not been in the company of friends for so long. Kate was right – he needed to have fun.

- "You see, even though you are such an exemplary husband, it does not mean that we should all be like you." - Harry began to explain the course of his thoughts, he grabbed his friend by the shoulder and persistently dragged him into the living room. – “During this year I have met a lot of new acquaintances, so be kind, show yourself to people!”

- “Come on, you know, I'm not the soul of the company!" - Steven protested, but it was too late: the door to the crowded hall was shut, and there was no chance of escaping...

It seemed that Harry’s house itself was providing a mood for amusement: Steven had not been here since the last repair. A formerly wide space seemed to become even wider - this place was just designed for parties!

It got dark very fast. As fast as Steven managed to get drunk.

- “You are losing your grip, man!” – Steven’s friend could hardly shout over the rumbling music, drinking a lot without getting drunk. – “Do you know why?”

- “Why?” - Steven asked with a stumbling tongue.

- “You’ve outstayed your welcome, old man! You will become covered with moss in the blink of an eye this way!”

Steven suddenly felt offended. The old friend shoved him into the most painful place. He had already pulled himself together to say something offensive to his friend, but suddenly Harry was called by his friend and having crouched for a moment on the arm of the couch where Steven was sitting, he immediately rushed to answer.

He waved his hand after Harry with annoyance, Steven decided not to go for revenge and remained sitting on the couch. Moreover, it seemed that he would immediately fall flat as soon as he stood up. That's why he began to stare at the women and men all around him - everyone had their own company and friends. Steven had friends too, but with each passing year he had less and less in common with them. He had already "dropped out" of all possible clubs: fishermen's club, film club, in which, during his student years, it was always possible to find a couple of people for an entertaining movie showing. Even a club of book lovers, into which one day a classmate enrolled him for fun, and which, according to the degree of sadness reminded him of the cemetery, now seemed to live a more interesting and more meaningful life than he did.

Steven did not get acquainted with the guests. It seemed that he was already starting a chat, but as soon as he got drunk, everyone went to look for more interesting interlocutors. "The devil made me go without Kate! Now there's no one to talk to!" - Steven lamented to himself, helplessly shaking a half-empty bottle.

- "Why aren’t you having fun?" - a female voice suddenly sounded in Steven's ear.

Steven shuddered and turned. A charming girl in a matching charming blue cocktail dress was sitting in front of him smiling, and was looking at him inquisitively, waiting for an answer.

- "W-what?" - Steven tried to squeeze out, but his throat was dry, and he remained sitting with his mouth open. And, coming to his senses he tried to justify this in the most absurd manner: he hastily swallowed. "It turned out, as if I had ignored her." - Steven realized suddenly. It was awkward.

The girl laughed. It was clear that she was not offended, but Steven could not help blushing.

- "I'm just not one of those." - he replied finally, - "Not a fun person, I guess. I don’t know how to have fun.”

- "You don’t know how to have fun?" - the girl exclaimed in surprise. – “Don’t make me laugh!”

- "I am absolutely serious!"

- "In that case, I'll be serious, too." - the girl suddenly gave him such a stern look that drunk Steven almost got frightened and laughed to himself about it. – “And I absolutely seriously invite you to the funniest dance.”

For some reason he nodded and sipped again, which caused another burst of laughter from the girl.

- "Aha." - he said suddenly. - "And when is this dance?"

For some reason his knees trembled suddenly, as if he was looking at her in the purple glow of the lamps standing on the edge of the abyss, not sitting here on the couch.

- "Oh, my God! Right now!" - the girl screamed desperately and having grabbed Steven by the sleeve of his jacket, suddenly dragged him into the middle of the room.

Hardly standing, Steven was feeling like the floor was striving to get out from under his feet. Or was he dancing like that? Must be. After all, this damn girl was twirling here and there, smiling and leading him. So this is supposed to be fun?

It took a little time for his drunken brain, warmed up with a breath of the old and, at the same time, new carefree life, to get used to not only not having the floor underfoot, but also the whole world rolling around. It seemed that everything that could fly off the coils, suddenly decided to do it at once, the same evening.

Having hardly rolled in such a state for one song, Steven found himself dancing a slow dance with this mysterious stranger, who appeared out of nowhere. With every minute the world was accelerating, turning in a circle of faces and sensations: friends, more friends, a stranger, Harry - the originator of the triumph and all this was in a halo of a wonderful feeling somewhere in his heart - like when you come down from the top of the "roller coaster". However, there was no desire to be cut off from it, as this feeling was only becoming lighter, brighter and surprisingly happier, so that he wanted this moment to last forever. Steven was thinking about this, when the girl was already kissing him on his lips, having wrapped her arms around his neck and getting up on her toes. She broke off, said something and laughed again. It must have been joke. But was it so important now?

2.

Steven had not woken up like this for a long time - almost since the time, which now his peers had the habit of calling "youth." His head was buzzing, and circles were floating in front of his eyes, as if someone had beaten him on the back of his head with something heavy. He wanted to drink because he had a hangover.

Hardly being able to recall the evening, Steven marveled at the silence around him and the light that enveloped him. How good it is when such light shone in the room, such a fresh, peaceful silence. In the room. In which room?

Having driven away the annoying gasoline-rainbow circles in front of his eyes, Steven stared at the ceiling. Someone else's ceiling.

He threw off the blanket and planning to get up, he suddenly saw what he did not expect to see at all: a thin hand, like the branch of a birch, was resting quietly on his chest. Slowly turning his heavy head on the pillow, he sighed feebly: the girl, who was amazingly beautiful asleep, the same as she was being awake yesterday, was sleeping next to him, her beautiful blond hair spread on the pillow.

- "Had fun..." - Steven thought in despair.

- "Damn, damn, damn!" - Steven cursed himself and, trying not to make a noise, cautiously rose from the bed. It was good that the large towel, in which he wrapped himself almost up to his shoulders, was near. He could not explain to himself what had happened in any other way than satanic obsession. It contradicted his consciousness so much. Getting out of the framework of the norms in his world, without ceasing to be absurd, it was slowly but surely beginning to plunge into the absurd the entire world around Steven.

Steven entered the bathroom and closed the door behind him, he glanced at his mobile phone with a terrible foreboding. 10 missed calls from Kate. "That was to be expected." - he remarked to himself with eerie reproach.

It was impossible to think that he could hide what happened from his wife. Perhaps, if somebody made him recall the last time he hid anything from his wife, he would have to think a long time. And the reply would be the most trivial - when he was preparing a surprise for the anniversary. A conspirator from God!

Such a spirit of knowledge of everything was declared in their small social group from the very day they got married and was never discussed personally. It was impossible to be subject to doubt, even in his thoughts. There could not be even a word about it!

And it was not because Steven was pressured by his wife or brought up with especially Puritan customs - not at all. He was just that kind of person – he had valued stability through all his life. He had not been a brilliant student at school, but he used to study quite well. He had never got into bad company not because his parents prohibited it, but because of his own unwillingness to have such "unstable" friends. During his student years he used to hang out with classmates only occasionally and exclusively on holidays. He had something to remember, but he never looked at the consequences. Because of this, Kate, who was so suitable to all of his criteria for stability, could not help but be his companion for life. At least, just a few years ago he was one hundred percent confident in that as well as in the steadfastness of his own moral principles ...

But something went wrong. It must be that a lot of people have a moment when something drastically changes at the most inopportune moment. It is like when your ship is steadily carried by a warm Atlantic stream to the northwest, but a sudden gust of wind destroys all plans: yours, your ship’s, and the current’s.

No, that impulse that overcame him was not because of the girl, who was peacefully dozing in the bedroom. To his horror, Steven could not even recall her name, although he was trying hard. Something seemed to break down in him, come out of order a few days ago. Or weeks? Or years? And maybe it did not break, but, on the contrary, it was fixed? Did it start to work?

Or maybe he had not changed at all, but had always been like this? Perhaps it was the simplest excuse, but even now Steven did not care about it at all. Let it all go to Hell, because now he was on the verge of a global catastrophe - personal catastrophe and the catastrophe of the whole world, which was not yet ready to fall apart completely to some consolation of its observer, but already certainly had a notable crack.

Steven washed up and went to the kitchen, where Harry, standing in the midst of the messy space littered with cigarette butts, wrappers, glasses and other garbage was already scraping burned sausages from the frying pan.

- "Good morning, macho man!" – his friend greeted him. - "You look disgusting!"

- "And you're good, as always!" - Steven grumbled back. - "Did everyone leave?"

- “Most - the day before. But you guys drank a lot. I could not let you go like this. And I was not able to escort you myself...”

"How could YOU let this happen, tell me?" - Steven interrupted him suddenly, grasping his head with his hands. – “After all, it all started beneath the glare of your vile eyes, and you didn’t even stop me when I lost my head! Isn’t that what friends are for?”

Harry only laughed in response and put a plate with sausages and scrambled eggs on the table in front of his friend. He spread out the curtains so that the room became instantly flooded with the brightest sunshine that made Steven squint, and his head roar with echoes of the evening. Harry walked around the back of his friend and slapped him on his shoulders. Steven shuddered as if he completely forgot about the presence of his friend in the kitchen for half a minute of silence. That was how tense he was.

- "No, bro! Friends are needed to be able to not stop you, when it is clear as a day that you do not need to stop.”

Steven felt the anger spill over his body, almost ready to pour out from the color on his face into his heavy fists and punch the low-life.

- "I'm a family man, you, idiot!" - Steven immediately turned from red to pale, like a dead man, suddenly having recalled the missed calls from Kate.

From his look, full of horror, Harry guessed what his friend was worried about.

- "I spoke with Kate about ten minutes ago."

- "And what?" - Steven wanted to ask, but the naughty words had become a lump in his throat.

- "Nothing, relax already!" - his friend waved his hand - "I just told her not to worry. I said that you drank too much and stayed at my place.”

Steven was silent, picking at a cooling breakfast, which he could not swallow.

- "Look, it happens to me often, too. Sometimes you need to change your passions at least for a while." - Harry insinuated suddenly, sitting opposite his friend, twiddling his portion between words and bending over the table closer to his friend. - "You did what no one can forbid you to do and has no right to forbid. - "Believe me, sooner or later it happens to many people...”

- “I'm not many! And I'm not you!” - Steven hissed at this, but then the door to the kitchen opened and she entered.

Silence reigned for a minute, which was painfully long for Steven. During this eternity, which lasted sixty seconds, the girl was standing on the threshold half-asleep staring without contact lenses at those sitting at the table. Harry was grinning slyly looking at Steven, and Steven again was ready to suffocate from the color, which poured suddenly onto his face.

- "This is Mia, my friend from Spain." - Harry took pity on his comrade finally.

- "I think it's time for me to go to work." - Steven said, clinking his fork on the plate. He did it almost at the same time as his friend and even jumped up, because of confusion.

Mia chuckled slightly, and Steven was ready to fall through the ground.

- "Dude, it's Sunday!" – Steven’s friend added fuel to the fire.

Steven nodded without another word, staring with a pleading look at the wall, as if he was apologizing with this nod. He bent unnaturally (God forbid he touch the edge of her dress) and jumped out of the kitchen putting his boots on hurriedly, almost confusing the left boot with the right one.

He reached the house in a total daze. Only when he had walked more than halfway, he was surprised thinking about how he managed not to get hit by a car in this condition. Only his wife pulled him out of his stupor.

- “So, did you have fun?” - she asked, not looking up from her laptop - must be again a deluge of work. There was nothing to say, she was a hard worker. Perhaps, even more hardworking than her husband. There was not a drop of reproach, anger or sarcasm in her words.

Someone would say: "Women are like this! They use your own words against you! Do not lose your vigilance! Do not be led by provocations and tricks!" But Steven knew for sure: stable Kate was not one of those who build intrigues. When she did not like something, she used to say it directly. Isn’t it the ideal quality for any person and a fundamental trait for the peaceful and united life of a whole society?

She did not say anything. Therefore, everything was ok. Of course, because she didn’t know anything.

- "Did you fall sleep there?" - she giggled, watching her husband take off his boots, looking in front of him, but not seeing anything.

- “Oh, yeah... Great, you know!” - he suddenly surprised himself by how cleverly he spoke. "Everything was going according to the plan - nothing-unusual". – “Contests, new people, dances, music. Harry can throw a party. It's a pity you were not there!" - he said, and having stumbled, felt the need to change the subject:

- "I drank too much because I was out of the habit. Didn’t I tell you and that I should not. I don’t know how to drink!”

- "Oh, come on!" Kate laughed in response, tearing herself away from the laptop. - "But you had fun with all your heart. I'm not angry at all: it can happen to anyone!"

- "It can happen to anyone..." - Steven said thoughtfully for some reason, but, coming to his senses, stepped towards his wife hastily, and, marveling at his own intuition again, asked gently: “Are you sure you are not angry?”

- “No, darling. I love you!”

- “And I…”

A kiss on the cheek. Steven went to change his clothes. But there was an obsessive, intrusive, itchy thought in the inflamed convolutions of his head: "This is the beginning of the end."

3.

He went for a run not because of habit. Of course, he had a sports schedule for the week, but this day he could make an exception as his body was so sick. However, he was feeling a clear need to air his thoughts. His wife's company suddenly became unbearable for him. He was lucky, she has just begun to do the laundry, and the idea of ​​going for a run together fell away without questions.

Even though Steven was trying hard, the morning Mia did not want to disappear from his head: she seemed so frighteningly attractive in the kitchen that day. She was not any less attractive the day before…

At the moments when he was overtaken by similar thoughts, he used to frown and shake his head to get rid of them just as if he had just climbed out of the water like a boy or a dog. It was turning out badly, but he was afraid to think about this. It seemed that it was worth taking only a step, and the world, known to him, calibrated to a millimeter, to the slightest emotion, would collapse into an immense abyss, and would finally and irrevocably be pulled from under his feet.

- "Maybe nothing happened at all?" - he thought from time to time. Oh, how he would love to believe it! Unbeknownst to himself, his legs themselves brought Steven to a miserable place, as if they knew from somewhere: there are all the answers.

His feet went upstairs to the first floor by themselves. Right the same way they brought their master into the elevator. Steven approached the door and began to listen warily: something like a vacuum cleaner was humming on the other side of the door. “Who could make such a bachelor to the bone like Harry decide to clean up? However, even slobs such as him do not live in the pigsty that we left." – Steven was musing, knocking again for the next time.

The vacuum cleaner was obviously muffling both the knock and the doorbell, so, without thinking twice, he went in without waiting for an invitation.

And to his surprise at the entrance to the house he met... Mia.

The same Mia. But now with a vacuum cleaner in one hand and the cord from it in the other. She was going to open the door. Having realized this, Steven grieved himself inwardly. He could drop down the stairs like a mischievous schoolboy. He would run so fast!

- "Oh, it's you! What a meeting!" - the girl exclaimed with mockery but cheerfully.

Steven tried to squeeze out something in response, but it turned out to be an unintelligible mooing. Mia rang with a new overflow of her wonderful silver laughter.

- "I actually came to see Harry." - he was trying to sound cheeky and unconstrained, but it seemed to come out badly.

- “He stepped out for a bit. Decided to run to the store.” – she put the ill-fated vacuum cleaner into a corner. – “And I am helping to clean up after yesterday...”

- “Yes, after yesterday...”

Steven himself didn’t know why he said it, and he already got frightened that an awkward silence would return. However, contrary to expectations, another burst of elegant laughter sounded. It seemed that everything in her very essence was elegant.

- "Come on in, we'll wait together."

- “Well, I am actually...” - he hesitated, but was interrupted very unexpectedly:

- "Are you running to work again?" Who are you? A professional runner?” – she took a funny mischievous look at his T-shirt, sport shorts and boots.

There was no way to escape anymore. There was nothing left to do but to stay and joke about it as best as possible.

- "Well… Let’s say I'm a runner." - Steven drawled, taking off his shoes and feeling how self-control was returning with every word. – “And who are you?”

- "I'm a photographer." - the girl stated simply, and, turning gracefully, went into the kitchen. She spoke from there – “I create beauty on film and digitally".

- “Excellent profession!” - he exclaimed, feeling embarrassed slowly but surely retreating - the color began to fade from his face. - "Will you show me somehow?"

- "Somehow." - Mia replied with a smile. - "Come in, don’t be shy – after yesterday Harry won’t mind." - she laughed.

On the words "after yesterday" Steven again felt how difficult it was to balance on the very edge. He went to the kitchen and gently set himself in a chair near the door to instantly focus his attention on Harry as soon as his friend came back.

Mia started to make coffee. Unexpectedly for Steven, the sight seemed unusual. He had never before seen the process of coffee being made for him personally. It was not because his wife has never made coffee for him or made it badly - just usually everything was already made in advance, almost a few hours before his arrival. Returning home, he felt as if he was approaching a working conveyor: everything that was made at the previous stage of production was ready at the right time and at the right place. Always in a certain state. Uninterrupted.

Finally he managed to feel differently than a factory worker. This was spectacular.

- "What else will you tell me?" - Mia smiled, serving a cup of coffee and putting hers in front of her. The drink was tempting him with a breath of hot, airy milky foam.

- “For example?” - Steven asked trying to delay an unpleasant conversation about his personality, sipping his coffee and squinting without knowing himself if it was because the coffee was hot, or from the fact that the taste was so pleasant. - "Excellent coffee!"

- "Thank you!" - the girl said without a trace of embarrassment. – “Well, what are you doing? In addition to running, of course!” - she laughed loudly pointing at his t-shirt, which was soaked from jogging.

Enjoying the joke and being embarrassed already deliberately playfully, he did not answer directly:

- “Nothing interesting. Just a manager of an automobile company.”

However, the residue remained: Steve didn’t tell her that the company belonged to his father-in-law.

- "It must be interesting when you appreciate what you work with." - She answered thoughtfully, – “Just like with photos. To me, automobiles have always seemed nothing more than soulless pieces of iron. And this is not even because I do not understand them and vice versa. But anyway, for some reason, neither "Mercedes", nor "Ferrari" seduce me.” - She smiled again charmingly and unconstrainedly.

- "In fact, there is sense in this..." - Steven began and flinched when a heavy hand dropped to his shoulder.

- “Did I interrupt you?” - Harry asked loudly and cheerfully, having entered unnoticeably even though Steven was sitting close to the door.

Steven suddenly fell silent, jumped up from his seat and remained standing, looking at Harry silently. He seemed to have instantly forgotten everything he wanted to say to him. Of course, he did not forget, but in the presence of Mia he would not allow himself to say that.

Extra words were not required. The girl smiled sincerely, taking the grocery bags from Harry and putting them on the table, and, under the pretext of the need to continue cleaning, went to the living room, where she started to rustle with a vacuum cleaner again. Harry and Steven stayed alone.

- "What the hell is she doing here?" - Steven hissed at his friend as soon as the girl disappeared behind a door.

- "It’s my house, okay?" - Harry grinned sarcastically. – “She's my friend and helps me - what's wrong with that, bro?”

- "I was not expecting to see her today when I was seeing you to discuss what had happened without her."

- “It’s your problem!” - Harry replied instantly, – “And this house is - you can read my lips - MINE.”

- "Are you sleeping with her?" - Steven blurted out suddenly, and when Harry was already ready to burst into an angry tirade, he grabbed his sleeve hard and painfully to make Harry speak more quietly.

- “Of course not!” - an outraged response sounded, - "Why are you so concerned about her? Who is she to you? Or do you think that anyone who sleeps with you automatically becomes your girlfriend?”

Steven was ready to hit his friend again.

- “Are you crazy?” - he almost shouted back. – “What nonsense are you talking about?! I'm a married man!”

- “That's it!” - Harry exclaimed in such a solemn tone, as if he was deliberately leading to such a conclusion. - "You just slept with her one time when you were drunk. This could happen to anyone. Nobody owes anything to anyone! It happens with grown-up people!”

- "I do not want to hear about it."

Harry did not answer. Steven looked at him attentively: would he say "Go away". However, he did not say that.

- "I think I have to go." - the guest said more gently.

- "Won’t you stay for dinner?" - the question was also softer.

- "No." - the man replied, carefully concealing his surprise. – “Thank you!”

- “Bye…”

Steven ran the usual way to his house, but the thoughts in his head were moving in a completely different direction.

4.

He came home as usual, not a minute later, not a minute earlier. And although it was not dinner time, Steven knew that dinner was ready. Everything in his life was predetermined: what he would eat, where he would go, what he would put on. Stability.

- "Darling, do you want coffee?" – his wife’s voice sounded from the bathroom.

- "No, thank you!" - he answered, and himself felt horrified at the cold tone he could detect in his voice. -"I'll take a shower and rest."

- "As you wish!" - she shrugged, sitting on the floor in front of the washing machine and sorting the laundry.

As soon as she reached the last worn shirt, something brought her to attention: the smell of clothes was different. Barely subtle, delicate fragrance of perfect women's perfume - inexpensive, but extremely elegant.

Hearing her husband’s steps, Kate quickly threw a heap of clothes into the washing machine and silently took a T-shirt from her husband. Having started the washing machine, she left the bathroom, forgetting to sort the leftover clothes.

- "Do you feel bad?" - Kate asked her husband at dinner.

- "Why do you think so?" - he asked.

- “You became uncommunicative, you aren’t eating well, and you hardly tell me anything.”

Steven sighed, chewing his dinner, which was nice, but in the fridge during the day, now warmed up.

- "Honey, you know perfectly well that I don’t drink, and a hangover for me is a strong blow. That's why I don’t like going to such parties, because it takes time to recover from them.”

- "I don’t think this is the case." - Kate said carefully. - "You've been behaving strangely for a long time already. Tell me, what happened?”

Putting the silverware away, Steven tried to make the most ordinary possible expression to conceal the thoughts about how to answer such a tricky question and not fail under a mask of meditation.

- "There's nothing you should be worried about." - he finally answered insinuatingly. – “I just have a lot of work, a lot of end-of-the-month reports, you know. There is nothing to worry about. I am just overloaded a little more than usual. I will handle it, I promise...”

- "Darling, it's not a joke!" - Kate interrupted, tapping the plate in turn, and he realized that somewhere he took a wrong turn. – “In the end, we are all one family. I think that I should talk to my father so that you do not have to work so hard. I'm sure he will understand, because he treats you well...”

- "There cannot even be talk about it!" - Steven said sharply, and again felt guilty when he saw a question in Kate's eyes.

He got up. It was time to find the way out. Steven turned on his theater of one actor and began to walk around the room with a crushed and at the same time guilty look.

- "You know..." - he began to speak quietly. – “Sometimes it seems to me that I'm not good for anything.”

He looked at Kate out of the corner of his eye. She was silently looking at him. It was difficult for him to guess her emotions by her expression, and he just continued, counting on luck:

- “And here this all - work, unsuccessful party and my nerves are almost at the limit, and I... Generally, I would love for everything to be fine. And it will improve, I'm sure!” - he took her hand and felt with inner gleefulness how she squeezed his hand in response. - "I just need a little time and I will handle it. I do not want you to have doubts about me and worry about every trifle... I know it's all temporary, it will all go away!"

- "Okay." - Kate said calmly, almost having disturbed him in mid-sentence. As if she received the answer to the question.

- “Are you sure?” - Steven looked at her with suspicion.

- "Absolutely." - she answered.

- "Do you promise that you will give me a chance and wait?"

- "I promise." - Kate said shortly, and having stood up, hugged him. He responded warmly to the embrace – he achieved victory, another milestone was reached.

The night seemed very ordinary. Steven was half-sitting, leaning the pillow against the wall vertically and reading a book in the light of the bedside lamp. His wife was lying by his side, facing the wall. Her shoulder, covered with half of a light blanket, was rising and descending gradually in the rhythm of a serene breath.

- "Are you sleeping?" - he asked softly, leaning against her shoulder, and touched it gently, checking her. Like before. "Sleeping" - he said affirmatively, and, turning off the lamp, put down the book, lay down and turned to the opposite wall.

He could not sleep. Again and again, like all the past day, hardly recalling it, he was scrolling the fragments of what had happened in his head, and analyzing it. So much happened as if it was a week ago, or, maybe, in a completely different life.

Neither did Kate. She was lying silently, pretending to be sleeping for her husband, looking at one point, thinking about what had happened, what was happening, and what else could happen. A tear rolled from her eyes involuntarily. Why? It was not clear to her, either.

5.

In less than two weeks, Steven was quite confidently, dexterously evading his wife's questions, thinking he was successful in his lie, invited Mia for another walk or a visit to the cinema. They exchanged compliments via phone and agreed on another meeting like old friends.

- “How are things on the personal front?” - Harry asked out of habit, coming out of the shower with one towel and with the other thrown over his muscular shoulders.

Steven used to often visit him before the meetings, put himself in order and consult with his best friend like a schoolboy before his first date.

- "Mind your business," - Steven said indifferently, brushing off the issue in a friendly way. He tried to tie his disobedient tie several times, and finally, angered at the accessory, tore it from his neck and tossed it onto the sofa in his friend's bedroom.

- "You always act like that" - Harry muttered, grinning and tousling his hair, and went into the kitchen.

- "What do you mean ‘like that’?" – Steven’s tone was calm again.

- "You pretend that nothing is happening, but you are all nervous."

Harry was waiting for his friend's answer from the hall, taking out fresh orange juice from the refrigerator. Steven hadn’t been answering for some time. Only his puffing could be heard. He was probably buttoning and unbuttoning the top button, deciding whether it was too formal or not.

- "Are you a fool, or what?" - Steven responded finally. – “My hamstrings are quivering. When I walk down the street, I am afraid of meeting someone I know inadvertently! What will people think?”

- "They will think what they should." - Harry said reasonably, sipping the juice right out of the box and slamming the refrigerator. - "You went too far, young man!"

- "What?" - Steven interrupted with irritation, appearing from the hall with a tie around his neck. This time it was turned to the left side. It was obvious that the attempts to tie it were still unsuccessful.

- “What is wrong?” - Harry smirked foolishly. – “I am telling the truth.”

- “Weren’t you provoking me?!” - a friend exclaimed in righteous fury. - "We have only one life! It's time to have fun!"

- “Didn’t you have fun? So sit down on your fifth point quietly as before. I just gave you the opportunity to have fun once, and you started doing it with all your might, you villain...”

- “And what do you think the relationship should look like?” - Steven interrupted his interlocutor again.

- "Re-la-ti-on-ship" - Harry drawled in syllables, saying it deliberately nasally and awkwardly, as if he had heard such a long and abstruse word for the first time. – “So, when did you start them?”

Steven sighed and disappeared around the corner of the corridor.

- "You do not understand a damn thing in your life." - a calm voice sounded finally in an offended tone.

- "And you do not understand a thing about style!" - Harry retorted boldly, following him. - "Rid yourself of the control, finally! Don’t disgrace yourself, for God's sake!"

Steven furiously tore off his tie for the second time that evening and threw it through the open bedroom door.

"That's better." - Harry smirked, straightening Steven’s disheveled hair with a flick of his fingers. Steven was shaking from his touch. When Harry finished, he stepped away from Steven and bowed his head to the side, narrowing his eyes slyly, like an artist who finished his work of art with concluding, final touches.

Steven put his shoes on and was scrambling at the entrance, looking in the mirror aimlessly. He was glancing at his watch with a worried look, then, out of habit, was reaching out to fix his tie, which he took off, after that he was blowing off the invisible specks of dust from his flamboyantly open jacket (Harry insisted on it).

- “Get out of here, you, damn romantic! – Harry said jokingly turning his friend by the shoulders in the direction of the exit, opening the door in front of him, and gently pushing him out. - "There is nothing sacred for you!"

On this sarcastically ironic note, the door to Harry's apartment slammed in Steven’s face and there was nothing left for him to do but to go for a date with his own destiny. It was not that he did not want to meet his fate - quite the opposite - only there he saw a bright, boundless and cloudless future, merging into a calm with the horizon. However, no matter how hard he was trying and how openly he was communicating with Mia, he could not get rid of shyness leftover from the very first meeting. Was it good or bad? He did not know for sure.

Yes, it was embarrassing. After all he was an adult, quite wealthy and independent, an emotionally mature man... However, there was something attractive to Steven in this shyness as if this shaky feeling was making his relationship with Mia a little more gentle, sincere and clean, despite their status about which Harry did not miss an opportunity to remind them. It was making Steven worry a lot...

...However, he forgot about everything when he saw Mia from afar.

On his way he bought a small, neat bouquet of red tulips - her favorite ones - and now was waving them like a signal flag over his head, although he saw that she was already hurrying towards him as quickly as her feet allowed. If somebody asked him in that miraculously stupid moment why he was waving, he almost certainly would not answer. It was not an expedient action, but rather the only possible expression of his already superhuman joy.

Only a half-minute later Steven noticed that thanks to his efforts, a couple of flowers had already lost some of their precious scarlet petals, which were scattered everywhere. One clung to the lapel of his jacket, the other crawled under the collar of his shirt and Steven tried to catch it until it fell below his collar.

He met the girl in a completely ridiculous pose and he gave her a bouquet having almost merged with the color of tulips because of the color, which immediately flooded his face. The flowers had a withered look now.

Mia simultaneously confused him even more, and reassured him with her laughter that rang like a bird's chirping, which immediately sprinkled on him like precious pebbles, shining in the sun.

- "You are such a big and serious man, but you act like a boy." - she continued to laugh, looking at him slyly and burying her face in the flowers.

- "I am who I am." - Steven grumbled in return, giving her his hand as she grabbed him by the elbow, walking down the street towards the cinema.

- "What does this high feeling do to people!" - the girl gasped playfully. - "Isn’t it wonderful?"

Mia was chattering, showering Steven with jokes, and he was walking happily, listening to her voice without understanding the meaning of the sentences to which her words were coming so competently and sometimes even too smartly and cleverly. He was walking and rejoicing that he could see the sun and her body illuminated by the sunlight, feel the warm city breeze and see her wonderful hair and her light dress flutter in the wind. He was happy to hear her voice, which rarely left him, and he was ready to listen to this voice for hours, days, years... even an eternity. He wanted her stock of jokes over him to never end. Let her joke, let her laugh at him and admire his naive love, provided that she would talk, sing and laugh forever... Just forever. Is this too much for a happy, rich and at the same time poor man in love?

The movie passed as if in a fog. Everything that Steven knew about the movie was only that it was some new well-known melodrama awaited by the whole world. However, it was obviously cheap quality, certainly full of profound philosophical meaning, like everything new that was being produced. It was deliberately serious and therefore ridiculous. And why was this unnatural, tearfully tortured story about a strange, unreal, invented love needed when a new, lively, happy and pure, true love came to their life as unexpectedly as snow?

Mia was watching the film with extraordinary attention. It even seemed unimportant to her that there was such a loving and affectionate Steven nearby, who did not notice the world around him for her sake. And Steven seemed to need only that. He was selflessly looking at her in the darkness that shook from the projector's reflections! Her face looked as if it was living some special life - the life of what was happening on the screen. Who knows, perhaps, it was only an illusion of revelations, and, in fact, she had little to do with what was happening to these worthless, stereotypical heroes when a warm, beloved, loving and tender person was sitting next to her?

- "So, did you like the movie?" - asked the girl as always with a sly squint, as soon as they left the movie theater.

- “A great movie!” - Steven lied, melting with the bliss of hearing her beautiful voice again after a two-hour silence.

- “As for it, it was total bullshit!” - Mia said cheerfully.

Steven could not hide the bewilderment on his face at the rejoicing Mia.

- “Oh really!? But it seemed to me you’ve been watching very closely...”

- “I was hoping that at least at the end the director would fulfill the task that he so shortsightedly set for himself!” - Mia continued his indistinct murmur.

- "That’s true, he did not." - Steven guessed the obvious thing and immediately thought that it was not worth repeating such nonsense aloud.

However, to his surprise, Mia gave little importance to his words, if she heard them at all.

- “He absolutely failed at it!” - she stated the verdict. – “Where did he get such a stupid and poetic love from?”

- “And what should it look like?” - Steven asked with a sinking heart.

- "Love?" - Steven nodded. - "Well..." - Mia drawled and fell into thought having lowered her eyes and was smiling. – “For example…”

Steven’s heart was anticipating the answer of his beloved, dying of ecstasy.

- "For example..." - Mia was not hurrying and the man again caught a note of cunning and play in her voice. - "For example, at least like my love for... cinematography!"

She rushed like a schoolgirl who ran up to her friend from behind and pulled off his hat in the frosty winter noon after school. Steven, not having time to understand what just happened between them, and only catching that again she was performing some prank, instantly rushed after her with laughter and joking threats, as if he was the same schoolboy. For the first time during many years Steven did not care about passers-by, who looked disapprovingly at the childishness that was unsuitable to their age and appearance.

6.

Steven returned home later than usual. This rarely used to happen before, but he knew that he could find the way out if his wife disapproved of his deed. Never in his married life did he give her any reason to doubt his marital fidelity, and now this was simply obliged to help him. Plus, Kate's father respected him. Would he say anything bad about his beloved son-in-law if his daughter suspected her husband of anything?

However, Kate, contrary to Steven's expectations, met him grimly. This never happened before, even on those rare evenings when she had to worry over his absence.

- "Hello, my dear!" - he shouted briskly, appearing on the threshold feeling cheered after the evening tag with Mia.

- "There is no need to bawl like that." - Kate said in an indifferent tone, which, as he knew from years of living together, began to cover his wife’s soul with ice.

- "I'm late, aren’t you angry?" - he entered the unpleasant and dangerous topic himself. "They say: the best defense is an attack." - Steven thought. Passing Kate, he kissed her cold cheek and was surprised to feel that it was slightly moist, as if she had recently wiped away tears. Stopping in the entrance to the bedroom, he lowered his head, as if listening to something inside himself. Nothing moved in his soul and for the first time in his life he independently made a firm decision: he would not ask. "After all, wasn’t it easy not to notice?"


Continue reading this ebook at Smashwords.
Download this book for your ebook reader.
(Pages 1-34 show above.)