“Caroline,” he says, “We might be in for some trouble.”
She thinks, at first, of a literal storm; David likes to stand and ruminate before their bay window every morning until she enters the room, at which point he’ll turn around and say in his best weather forecaster voice, We’re in for some rain, dear. But he’s sitting at the kitchen table, head in his hands and his voice is tired. She sits down and waits. His hand makes a quick abortive movement, as if to take her own, before it skitters back into his lap.
Fear uncoils slowly, deep in her belly. She pushes that to one side for now and lets her hand close the gap between them; David hangs on tightly, like he’s drowning, like a child.
“It’s bad,” he tells her. His voice cracks a little.
Caroline just rubs her thumb back and forth over his knuckles while he thinks. When she met David, back in college, he had been studying Russian Literature and she had been studying Political Science; they had vague plans of supporting one another while he became a bohemian professor type and she tried to change the world. The economy had been the first excuse, the housing market, the need to scrimp and save just to stay afloat – and now they live in a house they own outright, just the two of them with artwork from the local craft market on their walls and a piano in the study, and it’s never once felt like a compromise before. It’s never once felt like they settled, even as he took the job found for him by a friend of a friend and went into finance, even when she accepted that working as a secretary was clearly far more secure than trying to change the world; it was never the life they would have chosen when they were twenty and thought they knew everything but it is the life they chose, and she has never once looked back.
“Caroline, please,” David says, and she moves towards him to cup his face in her hands; she’s never loved him more, that silly man.
“I love you,” she says, which is true. “Now talk to me.”
He’s sitting at the table, she stands above him with his head in her hands: the image could have been torn from a Gauguin painting, all curves and warm colours. David speaks. Caroline listens.
When they were younger, she used to feel starved by his intelligence; it used to make her feel taut and sick and hollow, being around him, wanting nothing more than to tuck him in between her ribs where he could fill up all her cracks. To have him here now, laying out his idea – and she knows that it isn’t original, just the shuffling of numbers and his smooth salesman’s patter; that isn’t the point, which is the planning and the consideration and the clean angles of his mind spread out just for her – causes a familiar heat to rise between her legs, and she thinks, I love you, you silly man; those people are strangers.
Those people are strangers. The thought – if it can be called a thought – swells up from some place dark and instinctual. She lets her eyes wander over the tips of his ears towards the window, where snowflakes are spiralling towards the earth. The house next door has already set up strings of fairylights hanging from the gutters, and Caroline can see fragments of unlit coloured glass through the trees. It’s almost Christmas.
“Everything is going to be fine,” she promises, and she knows that it’s true. The people who lost their money –lost, a mean inner voice scoffs; Caroline pays it no attention – were not David, and she knows where her loyalty lies.
“I know.” He looks up at her, trusting and calm, and places his hands on her hips. He just holds her. The heat from their bodies warms the space between them. “I have—We can find a good lawyer. And it was just—I never meant for people to get hurt.”
“But they did.”
She hasn’t forgiven him – that isn’t her role, here, that isn’t her place – but she chooses him; she chooses him with her eyes wide open, knowing what he has done. Knowing what it means.
He bites his lip. Neither of them speak.
“What are you going to do?” he says finally. “I mean. I love you, you have to know that.”
His sigh of relief comes out jagged and she presses her mouth against his, kisses it from his lips.
“I do,” she murmurs, which is not an answer, which is not a promise.
That’s the heart of the problem. David would have made a fine academic, always listening for the themes and motifs and symbolism of it all. He trained himself to pay attention to every nuance, but always, always, in terms of what it could mean; surface details matter only as far as they permit a greater understanding of the readings which spring from the text, almost transcendental in its way. Almost like religion.
That’s always been the difference between them, really.
“I love you too,” she tells him, because he needs to hear it, and it’s true. “Everything’s going to be just fine.”
He looks up at her. He nods as though he believes her, which is good enough, and she kisses him again. Everything’s going to be just fine; she loves him; she chooses him – none of these statements are lies. She just needs time, that’s all, and she’ll make them true.
Time passes. She knows that intellectually, rather than from the ticking of the clock and the steady progression of mealtimes than any sense of momentum. Before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner, before bed: each day neatly quartered, strung up to wait. She calls in sick for work and rattles through their house, unable to settle.
On the bookshelf of Caroline’s father’s study, there was a plaster Mary, draped in blue cloth with her palms flat against one another, her head tilted towards the window. Praying. Caroline hasn’t prayed to her – not properly, she thinks, with the bone-deep certainty that some kinds of prayer are more meaningful than others – in years, but she slips into the confession booth and lets all her other sins trip from her tongue, and recites the resulting Hail Marys with grace enough to rival the Blessed Virgin herself. She is glad of the routine.
She becomes aware, one bright afternoon, that they are being watched.
A blue Honda is parked across from their front window. It could be nothing, she knows, and yet—
There are rumours in the papers. David’s firm is under investigation; the accounting just won't work. The driver of the car is still inside, Caroline can see the dark outline of their coat, even though the snow is thick on the ground and the air outside is sharp, thuggish with cold. The surface detail is the thing Caroline sees best: this does not make her stupid. Whether the driver is with the police or the press or something else entirely is irrelevant. She’s sure there’s a way to make this all go away with no more fuss. It just needs to be found.
She calls David.
“There’s a car in front of our house,” she tells him in one breathless rush.
His silence is confused.
“There’s someone in the car, I mean. David. I think-“
“Are you saying-?” He breaks off. There’s the sound of rustling, and then footsteps. When he next speaks, his voice has the low, uneven texture of gravel. “Darling, what are you saying?”
“I think someone might be investigating us.”
“They’re investigating everyone.”
“Yes, dear.” It slips out before she can help herself: “But everyone didn’t steal several thousand dollars.”
There’s a sharp intake of breath. She can almost see him flinch.
“Sorry,” she says, before he can say anything.
“That’s alright. It was true.”
Her fingers twist up the dishcloth. “Still, though.”
“We’ll fix this.”
“Everything will work out.”
“I know that too,” she says. Her eyes sting.
“You said that to me.” The accusation remains implicit, bubbling just beneath his words, and so she decides to ignore it. It’s almost cruel, using her attempt to comfort him as ammunition.
“And I meant it.”
He nods. She can hear his neck brush against the collar, knows the absent-minded way he nods along when he’s on the phone at home. Everything will work out, Caroline thinks; but she doesn’t know for whom.
“Well.” She decides to risk another glance towards the street, where the car is still parked. “You should go back to work.”
“Probably,” he concedes. “Try to stay calm.”
“Always,” promises Caroline, and diplomatically does not mention which one of them was blubbering at their kitchen table. She hangs up, with a fresh pit of unease beginning to take shape. Her fingers trace patterns along the countertops, and she needs-
Christ, she needs a drink. It’s not quite two o’clock yet, and she feels the absurd impulse to go and explain herself to the Honda driver, just in case he is watching her. Hello, she’d say, I just wanted you to know that I wouldn’t normally drink at this time, but it’s been a very stressful week. My husband might be about to get arrested, you see. Probably by you…
She smiles at the thought. The wine bottle clinks against the glass.
She texts her sister: Can we talk?
This is less a testament to Emily’s warm, comforting manner than it is to just how desperate Caroline feels; there’s no bad blood between Emily and David but they never really took to one another either. Whatever common ground exists between the two of them is arid, and achingly polite conversations are the best they can do.
Emily calls her immediately. Caroline answers.
“I got your message.” Her voice is cautious, testing; that isn’t a good sign. “What did you want to talk about?”
“You know, don’t you.” It isn’t a question.
“I watch the news.”
“So you know about—the problem at David’s work?”
Emily goes as if to scoff, and then catches herself. “Yeah. Sure. Is that what you want to talk about?”
“It’s been very stressful.” Caroline wonders if she can risk taking another peep at the Honda or not. There’s a house on the other side of the street with blue plastic icicles, filled with silver lights, hanging from their porch; the lights turn themselves on and off in waves, creating the impression of a slow waterfall in blue glitter. It’s very quaint. Caroline quite likes it.
“For everyone involved, I’d bet.”
Caroline hums her agreement and lets her hand curl slowly against the phone. The sound of Emily’s breath whispers down the line. She chews her bottom lip a little, an old bad habit she thought she kicked years ago, and selects her words carefully.
“People seem to think that David had something to do with it. I almost…”
“I almost thought someone was spying on us. As though this were CSI. Like a stake-out or something.”
“I didn’t think they had stake-outs on CSI. Just the morgue and blood spatter.”
Caroline waves the objection away. “You know what I mean. It's stupid, but. Oh, I don't know.”
"I guess.” The inflection in Emily’s voice is all wrong; she’s shooting for casual and hitting concerned, and that’s exactly what Caroline doesn’t need right now. “People are saying that it must have been someone in management, aren’t they? That’s what the news site said. That people in management would have known.”
“There are a lot of people in management.”
“Sure, yeah, that’s what I figured. I just mean, maybe that’s why people are wondering. You know. About people working in management.”
“Maybe.” Needing something to do with her hands, Caroline tucks the handset in between her shoulder and her ear and begins to measure out some coffee. “That might explain it.”
“I mean, it’s not that I think he did anything wrong.”
“Because he didn’t,” Caroline tries.
“Sure, right. I think that, you know, some people might have questions, that’s all.”
“But not you.” There are no clean mugs left. Caroline picks up the one which looks the least dirty and rinses it in the sink.
They stand in silence for a while longer. In the background, on the other side of the call, Caroline can hear a children’s cartoon ask her sister’s kids to help find something blue.
“If you need anything,” Emily says, stressing the last word. Caroline winces. “Then you know you can ask me, right?”
“Do you mean that?”
Emily pauses. One of her children squeals, delighted. When she does speak, the words come slowly, as though she’s still trying them on for size: “You know I do. I’m on your side.”
And Caroline is on David’s. Her ring finger twitches.
“I don’t think it’s about sides. Not really.”
She doesn’t: this isn’t a schoolyard game of cops and robbers, white hats and bad guys. This is David, the man she promised her life to, and a dark blue Honda which may just be a lost tourist; those people are strangers. There are choices to be made, but the ones about sides are trivial.
Besides, she already chose David; before he told her the truth, she chose him. Before they promised themselves to each other, in front of their families and God, she chose him.
(This was not the life she would have chosen, but it is the one she chose.
The only decision left to make is how.)
The blue Honda returns the next day, and the next. Caroline says nothing to David. It feels strange to be moving around their house with purpose again, to be watching out for their mechanical ghost, to have a secret of her own and decisions to make, to feel an old bubble of mischief which has her wanting to wave cheerily whenever she passes a window. The house across the street gains a snowman and promptly loses it to the sunshine. She fills up their house with music, Springsteen, Now you can't walk away from the price you pay; David doesn't listen to the lyrics enough to mind. He fidgets constantly, always picking at the skin around his nails, and insists loudly that things will die down soon at every opportunity.
He's nursing his coffee in the rocking chair, his feet curled around one another. He raises his mug in a silent toast when he sees her enter and perch on the piano stool. It hasn't been played in years.
"You look like you belong in a J. Crew ad," she tells him, and his toes give a pleased little wiggle. "What are you thinking about?"
"I'll give you three guesses."
"And if I get it right, I win a free vacation?"
"Something like that," he says, and looks down at the newspaper in his lap. The chair shifts and he pushes back against the floorboards lightly, making it rock faster. "Office scuttlebutt says that they might have found something. There's this new hire in Acquisitions, he signed off on some contracts which don't officially exist, so."
"So they think they caught the thief." She presses her hands together to keep them still, is reminded once more of her father's statue and holds her knees instead.
"I thought it was a good idea at the time. Using someone else's computer." He raises and lowers one shoulder in a half-hearted shrug. "There shouldn't be enough evidence to prosecute, I don't think. And his lawyer would be able to get him off. He isn't really guilty, is he?"
"No. I suppose not."
She crosses towards their crowded bookshelf which covers most of the back wall. It houses all their books, an eclectic mix of the cookbooks they inherited from David's mother, the Bible Caroline was given at her First Communion and several books in blocky Cyrillic lettering. Caroline took French in high school and promptly forgot the vast majority; she's always been a little envious that David managed to cling to his second language. It's not quite dawn. The lights from their neighbour's Christmas decorations twinkle in the distance, like fireflies on the very edge of her perception.
"I thought-" He starts, then his mouth snaps shut. "We needed the money. I thought we needed it, I mean. You always said that you wanted to travel and we never did, and there was the bathroom, and the money was just sitting there. It was so easy, and it wasn't like- I didn't hurt anyone. I didn't think anyone would be hurt. They almost didn't notice-!"
It isn't her place to forgive him and she refuses to lie, so she covers his mouth with her own and kisses him, long and slow, a Hollywood Classic. He tastes like coffee and the splash of whiskey she pretended not to see him add; he tastes like the best decision she ever made and she's never been so sure.
"I love you," she says, and rests her forehead against his.
"I think I'm going to call the police now."
This is how she chooses him, and it's a love letter in its own right if he'll only see it.
David's eyes close. His breath stills. He rises out of the chair in one fumbling, inelegant move which sends some of the coffee sloshing out of the mug and onto the sleeve of his sweater and his expression is one of pure relief, someone stepping in from the cold.
"OK." He pulls her into a one-armed hug, and she tucks her face into the side of his neck and drinks in the smell of him. "I love you. That's OK."
Caroline doesn't need his permission: she folds her fists into the fabric of his sweater and looks into his face where she can read every promise they ever made. Whither thou goest, she thinks; she tilts her head slightly to one side and feels a half-familiar smile cross her features. The cell phone in her pocket digs into her hip. She steps back and pulls it out, hovers her finger above the touch screen. David watches her with the same mixture of exhaustion and gratitude, and she can't bear it, looks up towards the heavens while she blinks her tears away.
"You're welcome," she says, and means it. Then: "Hello? Yes, I'm calling with information about a crime."