April 23, 2015

Elizabeth's Story

by Jessica Knoll

So here's the thing about doing something unforgivable—before you do it, you better be prepared not to be forgiven. In the years that followed my dalliance with Brad, I admit, I did some things that were not very nice. Not very nice even for me. And to the average lay person like, oh, I don't know, JOSIE MITCHELL, perhaps the most basic bitch I ever did meet, it would have been easy to write me off as an aging, bitter sociopathic prom queen. But what people like that don't understand is that my cruel behavior was its very own kind of mea culpa. I was just giving the people what they wanted, you know? A real mustache twirling villain. Think about all those slimy, philandering politicians. Their tearful apologies to the wives and families they've humiliated, their pleas to the public to forgive them. Has anyone, in the millenniums-old history of powerful men cheating on their docile wives, ever believed them? Of course not! We all know they're only sorry they got caught.

Why not just man up? Embrace what a nasty piece of work you really are? Let the people you've hurt really revel in it. I imagine it's cathartic. I certainly would have found it so if Biz and Izzy had just owned their parts in that night, unapologetically. "Yeah, you were a dictatorial beast who fucked all the guys we wanted to fuck and you ate McDonald's every day and managed to maintain the frame of a praying mantis. We hated you." Like give me something to get really angry about, you know? Don't make me love you, nurture you, depend on you so that I'm all conflicted about ruining your life when I find out what a piece of disloyal pond scum you really are.

Because truth be told, I did feel conflicted about screwing Biz's husband. But you know, what else could I do? (I guess not screw him, ha!). I couldn't have someone in my life make a fool of me like that. I just wouldn't have it.

If I'm being really honest, I was also maybe looking for an out from my marriage. Of course Peter was going to find out! I knew Biz would go running right to him once she found those cuffs I planted in her lingerie drawer. She would think she was getting me back for sleeping with Brad by ratting me out, ruining my own marriage, when really, she was just my messenger. I wanted to ruin my marriage.

So like I said, I did something unforgivable and when Peter came home one evening, his face slack and shell-shocked, as though someone had removed all the muscles in his jaw, I was prepared for his reaction.

"Elizabeth?" he called, shakily, when the door closed behind him.

I put down the magazine I was reading. "In here!" I called back. I shimmied my shoulders, trying to loosen up, steel myself for what was about to go down.

Peter's footfalls sounded closer, and then he was standing above me. I swung my legs around so I was sitting, rather than reclining. This wasn't the sort of conversation you had lying down.

"It had to be my best friend, huh?" he asked. He wasn't hysterical. On the contrary, he sounded very calm and matter-of-fact about the whole thing.

"Yes, it had to be your best friend," I responded, just as soberly. "For reasons you wouldn't understand. There's a lot you don't know about me Peter. A lot you don't know about Biz. Izzy too."

Peter brought his hand to his forehead and squinted, as though he were having a migraine. "Why do I have the feeling that you are somehow also responsible for Izzy going AWOL the way she did."

"Because I am responsible for that."

Peter removed his hand. He was looking at me the way you look at a map when you're lost. Like there has to be a way, however roundabout, to get to where you need to be. There is an answer, you just have to use a little ingenuity to find it. "Does this have to do with that girl who died when you were in college?"

My hands, which had been resting languidly in my lap, suddenly went rigid. I had never told Peter about Bridget. "It might be," I said, realizing the best tactic here might be to give him an explanation to work with, make him feel slightly more magnanimous toward me. "Who told you about that?"

Peter blinked, trying to decide whether or not he was in the mood to sate my curiosity. "Your father did."

I waited for him to say more. When he didn't, I prodded, "And when did he tell you that?"

Peter dug his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. "Nope. My turn again. How does this have something to do with that girl who died?"

Apparently Peter had decided on the same strategy as I had. Give me a little, hope for a little more back in return. Fine. I would play by those rules. Seemed fair enough. "Senior year Biz, Izzy, and Brigid decided to play a prank on me. I mean," I added hastily, "I only found out Izzy and Biz were involved recently. I thought it had all been Bridget. Anyway. They drugged me, transported me to an abandoned house off campus, and locked me in the basement."

Peter ran his hands over his face. "Jesus."

"When I came to," I continued, "I was really out of it. I managed to escape—well, sort of. Because just as I got to the top of the basement stairs, Bridget showed up. She charged me—well, in my mind she charged me, but apparently she was actually coming to help me. I pushed her. I won't even claim it was self defense. I was just angry and rash. She fell down the stairs and died."

Peter had come around the side of the couch and sat next to me while I was talking. His eyes were soft and sad, and I remembered why I thought I'd fallen in love with him in the first place. He really was a good egg, this one. "You don't have to feel bad for me," I said. "I deserved to be knocked down a peg or two. I hadn't been the best friend to Biz."

"Even so," he said, "I don't think slacking in the best friend department warrants a punishment like that. When did you find out she was involved?"

I sighed. "I've known for a bit." That was the timeline I was going with. At this point, it had been almost two years since Abby had resurfaced, showed me that diagram that implicated Biz, Izzy, and Campbell.

Peter shook his head, utterly perplexed. "How could you continue to be friends with someone knowing she did that to you?"

I stared at Peter sadly. "I'm really good at pretending."

Peter's jaw flexed.

"Your turn," I said. "My father told you about Bridget? When? Why?"

"I've known for a bit too," Peter said. "Your father and I had a sort of man-to-man conversation right before I proposed. I wasn't..." he paused and sighed.

"What? You weren't what?"

"I wasn't sure I wanted to propose," Peter admitted. "There was always," he waved his hand between us, miming a wall, "something impenetrable about you. Your dad really wanted us to get married." He laughed. "I think he thought of me as the son he never—well, he once had."

My throat felt sticky when I swallowed. "I don't know why I've never had this conscious thought before. But there is something about you that reminds me of Thayer. I can see how my father saw it too."

Peter nodded. "Anyway. He wanted me to know that you'd had a rough couple of years, but that you had gotten so much better, and that meant that you would only continue to improve as time went on. And you did seem to be getting better, especially after I proposed. But, then, right before we got married, something happened, and it was like you were here, but not really."

That something was Campbell going to jail. Now was the moment, if there ever was one, to tell Peter about Campbell, but something kept me from doing so. "I really wanted a baby," I lied. "And it wasn't happening."

"But we didn't start trying for a baby until after we got married," Peter said.

"Are you sure?" I countered, even though he was right. "I mean, I think we were at least talking about it. I think I just had a lot of anxiety about it. I always had a fear I would have a problem getting pregnant, because it was something I wanted so much."

Peter nodded, but he was eyeing me. I could tell he didn't completely buy it. He was so focused on figuring out what my deal was that he was off guard, and the moment was now to take my shot. "Is that why you started messing around with Izzy?"

Peter scratched his ear. "You really want to twist that knife, huh?"

"I mean, I thought we were being completely honest with each other."

Peter rested his elbow on his thigh and propped his head up on his hand. "You sure you want to do this?"

He had no idea how sure. When I'd met with Bart, my lawyer, a few weeks ago, I'd found out that yes, my father had adjusted the terms of my trust to be more favorable toward me. But there was one caveat—if my marriage dissolved through any fault of my own, I was cut out. I needed Peter to admit to an affair too, so that there was no blame lost between us.

"There was this one night," Peter said, "with Izzy. Where she tried something. We made out for a little, but I put a stop to it."

"But then why was she coming out of your room the morning of our wedding?"

Peter steepled his hands over his nose and exhaled. "You didn't see her coming out of my room, Elizabeth. That's impossible."

"Fine," I admitted. "I saw her coming down the stairs from your floor. But where else would she be coming from?"

There was a beat. "She was coming from your father's room," Peter said.

I felt as though someone had dumped a bucket of ice cold water over my head. Like if I just held very, very still, the deluge would eventually stop. I just had to wait it out. "Are you sure?" I whispered.

"Izzy and your dad?" Peter asked. "I'm sure. I saw them together a few times. Just around town. He knew I knew. I don't just think your dad wanted me as a son-in-law because I reminded him of Thayer. I think it was sort of a bargaining chip for him. He treated me as a sort of kept man, giving me preferential treatment at work, all the big responsibilities and the outsized salary, and in return, I kept his secret from you."

I smirked. "I guess the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. My father's a piece of shit, and so am I."

"You're not a piece of shit, Elizabeth," Peter said, and I almost gave him a grateful smile, but then he said, "but you can't seem to stop acting like one."

He was right, of course. Because without realizing it, Peter had just given me a golden ticket. I was going to do another very shitty, morally reprehensible thing.

My father was still in love with his girlfriend, Constance. He didn't want to lose her. And he wouldn't. Constance would never hear of what went down with Izzy. So long as my father agreed to my terms: he had been instrumental in putting Campbell behind bars. Now he was going to be instrumental in getting him out. He would throw his weight around, write a nice fat check, whatever it took to free Campbell. Or I would tell.

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