“Because you cheated on me!” Anne replied.
“But I told you it was just one time, and it won’t happen again,” Nathan moved closer to see her face. Anne’s big round eyes gleamed with anger, and he thought she was even more beautiful when she was so animated. “Why don’t you believe me?” he asked.
“Because one time is one time too many, and now I will always be wondering if I can ever trust you or not. Can you move, please?” Anne said without lifting her head. She was focused on the last shelf that housed her collection of elephants and elves so that she wouldn’t have to look in his eyes. With her small hands, she caressed lovingly the items in front of her.
“But we can work through it, I promise. Please, believe me. I will go into counseling with you if you want,” Nathan offered. “You told me once that nothing could break our love. Remember when you told me that? It was on the way home from Disneyland. You were tired and I was driving. You put your head on my shoulder and said it was the most beautiful day of your life.”
“No, I don’t think I can do therapy with you!” Anne answered. She was putting her favorite porcelain elephants in a large box, labeling them “Fragile” with a black sharpie. “Not after what you did.” Without looking at him, she could sense he was getting upset. She could hear his fingers tapping on the door frame. So, she decided not to tell him that some things once broken could not be repaired. Or even if they were fixed, they would never be the same. And Anne didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a relationship that had been repaired. She, for a second, envisioned her broken heart taped with a band aid, rope, and glue. She shook her head.
“It was nothing,” Nathan ran his fingers through his hair. “You know, it really didn’t mean anything. I was just checking if you would notice at all. I mean, if you were still paying attention to me. To us. That waitress, she was just to test if you still cared.” He was smoothing an invisible wrinkle on his freshly ironed shirt as if that was all that mattered.
Anne quickly raised her eyes to meet his. Something like a flash of anger visited his face for a split of second. Then, his face returned to its previous semi-concerned state.
“Guess what,” she said. “I don’t believe you at all. I walked in on both of you only because I had left work earlier, and you couldn’t have known that. So that means you weren’t able to plan that to test anything. I caught you with her because you hadn’t expected me home that early. Besides, I have no idea if it was only one time or not.”
“Anne, you can’t do this to me, to us,” Nathan paused for a moment. Then, he tried again. “I am your soul mate. You always told me I was your soul mate. Don’t leave me.” Again, he put on his sad puppy voice while looking at the wall of boxes lined up next to the wall. Anne must have been busy packing her belongings the whole day. It was seven in the evening, and he has just arrived after a day’s work. While they had been discussing her decision to leave for the last few days, he was still not ready to let her go, at least not like this. He was also hungry. Instead, he pulled out a cigarette from a silver cigarette case and placed it in between his fingers.
“I guess, you are not my soul mate, Nate,” Anne finished placing her collection of elephants in a box. She added layers of tissues between them and then fastened a lid. With a precise movement of her hand, she taped the box and stacked it on a pile of boxes in a corner of the room. Without looking at Nathan, she opened another empty box and started adding to it the elf figurines. Each of them was methodically inspected, placed, and lined with tissue.
“But that cannot be the end. We had plans; don’t you remember? We were to have kids,” Nathan’s voice tapered off. “Honey, I didn’t do it on purpose. I don’t know why I did it.” He pulled out a heavy mother-of-the-pearl lighter and lit his cigarette. He sat down on a chair facing Anne and this time smoothed his cashmere wool pants. He registered they were getting a little worn out, and he needed to replace them soon.
Anne was about to scold him for smoking inside, but she chose not to. After all, she thought, it didn’t matter to her anymore if the furniture would smell like an ashtray. He was free to do what he pleased, even if it meant smoking inside. She was holding one of her elves in her slender hand. Without looking at Nathan, she wrapped the elf and put in gently in a box. Then, she reached for another one.
“Why don’t you answer me?” Nate’s voice now reached a tone of urgency and sounded unusually high. “Why are you so damn focused on these figurines? Can you look at me instead?” he yelled. “Why do you always care so much about these things? They are only things, for God’s sake! Say something!” He reached for an ashtray.
“I can’t have kids with a cheat,” Anne still was avoiding Nathan’s eyes. She didn’t want to look in his face. There could still be traces of love, fragments of passion she so desperately tried to erase from her memory. The sleepless nights they spent together under the stars, the excitement of finding their first apartment, the engagement ring he procured in a muffin he had baked for her. All these flashed in front of her eyes. But she made up her mind. That night, when she had found Nate with the waitress from a restaurant across the street, in their bed, in their sheets, that was too difficult to erase. Not only he slept with her, but he also let her into their apartment, the place she considered theirs only. She still could remember the metallic taste of blood in her mouth when she bit her tongue, a feeling of lightheadedness that overcame her when she saw them between the expensive sheets she had carefully selected from an online catalogue. The girl froze when she saw Anne. Then, as she started getting dressed in a panic, with one careless move of her hand, she knocked down one of Anne’s elves from the shelf. Anne was standing speechless while the girl moved past her and found the door, never to be seen again.
“But we went over it so many times,” Nate’s voice brought Anne back. “It was just one time; I didn’t cheat on you before. I am not a liar.”
Anne looked at their living room again. Her boxes were lined up against the wall. The suitcases were ready to be placed in her car. There was nothing else to pack anymore. The two years of life together neatly contained in these boxes, was that it, she pondered. She lifted her head and found Nate’s eyes examining hers. She couldn’t avoid his gaze, and it made her uncomfortable. She has tried to evade looking into his eyes for the past week, ever since the incident. Now, as he was staring, her perfect composure was dissipating. Her fingers were trembling; her mouth was getting dry while the tears were streaming down her cheeks. And she couldn’t stick to her script anymore.
“I am leaving you because she broke my elf. That girl you slept with. She broke the elf my mom had given me. It was a special gift. When I was five, my dad had left us for another woman, and we had nobody but one another. He abandoned us, and we were poor. So poor we only had money to pay the rent and buy potatoes. We ate baked potatoes, fried potatoes, and potato soup every day for many weeks. So, when my mom got her first job, she bought me this elf. To make it special for me because she knew I loved elves. The elves are special to me because each one was her token of love. And, then,” Anne’s voice trailed off, “a stranger comes and destroys something so dear to me, and you were the one to let the stranger in? How do you expect I am supposed to get over this?”
Nathan was silent. He was weighing in his mind whether to let her go now or plead one more time. He was tired. It seemed, Anne was set on leaving now. If only he could make her stay one more week. This is how much time he needed to convince his boss his life was still in a perfect order. After that, he wouldn’t care where Anne was.