I couldn’t breathe. I ran to the bathroom. Jack followed me and closed the door behind him.
“What the hell, Jack? Is that your girlfriend? Did she come here to send us a message?”
“Elise, I swear, that is not Samantha.”
Jack rarely used her name. He knew I didn’t like hearing it.
I was leaning on the vanity taking shallow gulps of air.
“Calm down, Elise. She misspoke because I walked up at that moment.”
“You did tell me that she, Samantha, was having trouble letting go,” I reminded him.
“She’s getting better, and she would never pull a stunt like this anyway. Besides, this woman is freaking pregnant. I told you nothing physical ever happened.”
“She said she was a snake, Jack.”
“She was messing with you because she didn’t want you trying to win over the kids.”
“Was that what I was trying to do?”
“Kinda seemed like it.”
“I was trying to break the tension.”
Jack could see I was holding back tears.
“It’s like, what’s it called, Occam’s Razor? The simplest answer is the one most likely to be true. They’re just a couple that broke down, and they don’t want to be here right now. She didn’t like you getting all cozy with the kids, and then…Wait, she said she shouldn’t have told you anything. What did she tell you?”
I gave Jack a quick summary of the situation according to Jocelyn.
“OK, maybe we better get back out there.”
I glared at him. “So, you see why I might think something’s not right.”
With a big sigh, Jack pulled his phone out of his back pocket. He started scrolling rapidly through it and then stopped. He held the phone out in front of me.
“That’s Samantha,” he said.
It was a picture of a group of people from one of his office happy hours. I recognized his former boss, from before his promotion, standing in the back. In the middle was Jack and a woman, who looked nothing like Jocelyn. They were sitting close, arms draped casually over each other’s shoulders.
“It’s from like six months ago, right before I told you.”
Seeing the photo made it so much more real. I felt nauseous.
“What did your co-workers think, with you guys hanging on each other like that?”
“I don’t know. We were teammates, Elise. We were all celebrating finishing a big project.” Jack put the phone away. “Can we revisit this later? I think we should get out there.”
“OK, but I still think something’s up with these two. And, honestly, I don’t want to hear about Samantha again, as long as you promise me nothing ever happened. And that you’ve convinced her she’s barking up the wrong tree.”
“Yes, yes, of course, Elise.”
And then we both laughed, because where the hell did “barking up the wrong tree” come from?
We found Jocelyn and the kids sitting in the living room. She was looking at her phone.
“Anything from Dean?” I asked.
“No, not yet.” She said, putting her phone down on the coffee table.
“Um, Jack could set the kids up in the den to watch a movie,” I suggested.
The kids perked up. There was a long silence. I wondered if Jocelyn knew that I was trying to maneuver some more one-on-one time with her.
“Okay, sure,” Jocelyn said, throwing her hands in the air.
Jack motioned at the kids, “C’mon you two, let’s go find something fun to watch!”
I sat down on the couch across from Jocelyn and leaned over, my arms folded on my knees.
“Jocelyn, is everything ok? I know I’m a stranger, but you can talk to me.”
She picked up her phone, looked at the screen, and then put it back down.
“I can’t explain. It’s complicated. You must be familiar with complicated.”
I sat back, unsure where she was going with this.
Jocelyn continued, “You don’t fully trust Jack, right? Why do you think that is? Is it more about him or about your own baggage?”
“We all have baggage,” I conceded.
“So, maybe you’re looking at me and Dean through your own baggage.”
I could hear the TV in the other room. Hopefully, Jack would return soon. I didn’t want to get into a battle of wits with Jocelyn—I was clearly outmatched.
Jocelyn’s phone dinged and she grabbed it. “The mechanic is working on the car,” she announced.
I started thinking about the amount of time Jocelyn or Dean had been left unaccompanied in the house. Was it long enough for one of them to steal a checkbook or a credit card? Or were they after more? Was I just being paranoid?
Jocelyn could see the gears turning in my head, I was certain of it. “Elise, my point is, it seems like you want to save me,” she said, “but what if I’m here to save you?”
“What does that mean?” I asked, my heart beating in my throat.
“Tell me why you’re having a tough time getting past Jack’s emotional attachment at work. Do you believe him when he says it’s over?”
“I do. But I have trust issues. I can’t talk about it.”
“Yet you want me to tell you my secrets,” she said slowly. “Isn’t that weird?”
The whole thing was weird. Who was this woman? Why did I want nothing more than to go grab that bottle of wine and tell her everything?
Jack walked back into the room. “They’re watching Toy Story. They seem pretty content. You might have to carry them out of here.”
“The mechanic is up there,” I informed Jack.
“Maybe I should clear off the steps; it’s really starting to stick,” Jack said.
Jocelyn jumped to her feet, “No worries! We’ll be fine.”
As if on cue, we heard a commotion outside. We all ran to the foyer, and Jack flung open the front door. At the foot of our stairs, a man was helping Dean to his feet.
“Dean! What happened?” Jocelyn shouted. As she ran out in the snow, I saw that she had snow boots on. I hadn’t noticed that before.
“I’m ok, I slipped a bit and slid down the last couple steps.”
The man, who I took to be the mechanic, helped Dean get inside. Dean was not putting his full weight on his left ankle.
“Did you twist your ankle?” I asked.
“Do you need some help?” Jack asked.
“I’m fine,” Dean said.
The mechanic helped Dean sit down on the bench in our foyer.
As Jack closed the door, it occurred to me that Jack and I were now outnumbered in our house, three adults to two. I wasn’t sure if the kids would be a help or a hindrance to whatever they might have planned.
“Please be careful as you go back up the stairs,” I said to the mechanic, not too subtly.
“If you don’t mind, ma’am, I’d like to wait here for the tow truck,” he said. “I couldn’t fix the car, and my truck’s not equipped for towin’. Not that I’d want to even try it in this snow. It’s really coming down out there.”
Coming Up: Part IV, Trust