by Q. D. Purdu
Genre: Contemporary Romance
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So I’m home alone on Saturday night in my flannel PJs, relaxed on my denim sofa, eating fudge and brazil nuts, and channel surfing. Jewelry channel—maybe a flashy gem would jazz up my life. Gag—tonight it’s cameos. Sex in the City—I bet they all faked it, even Samantha. Marriage Exposure—where do they find people who will go on television and argue about their sex lives?
I don’t believe my eyes. It looks like Burt on Marriage Exposure. I raise the volume and edge closer to the screen. It is him, the same reddish-brown hair and sharp features. He’s even wearing his favorite green-striped polo shirt. I haven’t seen him in a year, and he’s wearing that same shirt. The short-haired woman sitting next to him has her hands covering her face. She’s wailing something like, “You never loved me! You never loved me!”
It can’t be. Burt’s in an L-word relationship? I edge closer to the screen, hardly breathing.
Burt pulls at the back of his neck with one hand, the way he always does when he’s stressed, and looks down toward his feet. “I wouldn’t have married you if I didn’t love you.” Unbelievable. He’s married to her.
She uncovers her red, puffy face and leans close to him. “You never loved me.” Spit flies out with her words. “You’ve always loved…” She gives a big, gasping sob and then slowly, distinctly blurts out my name. “…Desdemona. With…with…her beautiful dark eyes. Her perfect body. Her incredible piano playing.” More spit with the p’s. “Her long, thick raven hair.” She raises both hands to her head and pulls at her brownish spikes.
No. I must have misheard.
But she repeats my name, dragging out each syllable as if it causes her physical pain. “Des…de…mon…a.”
Could Burt have dated another Desdemona?
Something mushes between my toes. Fudge under my foot oozes out onto my creamy-white lamb’s-wool throw, which is now on the floor. I must have stood when she wailed my name. Brazil nuts are all over the floor.
Burt takes her by the shoulders. “Jenny, no.” He always was considerate of everyone’s feelings. “I could never love Desdemona. She…she’s a freak. She fakes orgasms.”
A crazy giggle snakes its way up from my chest. Is this really happening? How could he have known? Guys can’t really tell, can they? The giggle morphs into a nauseated groan. Am I dreaming? Drugged? In a parallel universe? Has Burt just announced my unspeakable flaw to the world?
And so what if I don’t get the big O every, single time? Well, I guess I hardly ever get it…OK—I got it three times, and it would have been four if my vibrator had not quit working. But I’m not even twenty-seven yet—far from the sexual peak of forty.
At some point during the last minute my phone has started buzzing. My autopilot eyes glance at it. Friends are texting me about Burt being on TV. So there is something worse than being a nonorgasmic faker. It’s being a nonorgasmic faker and having the whole world know it.
A loud animallike howl shocks the breath out of me. What is that? I freeze and listen for a split second before I realize the roar is coming from me.
I muffle my howls, hoping I haven’t alarmed my landlady, who lives in the attached duplex. With foot in fudge and phone facedown, I’m transfixed.
Burt embraces his sobbing wife and mutters endearments. The MC hoofs it into the audience, whose members are clamoring to speak into the microphone.
A long-haired, leather-vested guy gets the first shot. “Hey, Burt.” He’s got an oily, smooth voice—could be a talk-show host himself. “Ah, maybe you just ain’t man enough for Mona.”
Mona. I hate when people call me Mona. But this could be good. Maybe the world will forget my real name. Yes! Mona.
Next a clean-cut, older guy steps up and glares at the leather vest. “Des. De. Mon. A. Not Mona.” Crap. “You should be respectful enough to pronounce her complete name.”
The audience interrupts with hoots that could be boos or cheers or random insanity. The MC swings the mic toward an elderly lady, but the clean-cut guy jerks him back. “I’m not finished. The first gentleman—” He rolls his eyes toward the leather vest. “—was correct about one thing.”
The impatient grandma reaches for the mic, and the MC blocks her hand and tries to hurry the clean-cut guy, who looks like he’s gearing up for a long lecture. “If Desdemona is not satisfied, it’s clearly a sign of the male’s lack of technique. Research shows…”
Grandma’s hand darts between the two men and snatches the mic. She runs down an aisle with the MC in pursuit. “Burt!” Her voice is surprisingly loud and shrill. “Did you ask Desdemona what’s a matter?” She screams out questions as the MC chases, grabbing futilely for the mic. “Did you ask her why?” This elderly woman sprints like a teenager. “How do you know she faked? Did you go down?” The audience is out of control now.
In a shuffle of arms, a tall, skinny guy commandeers the mic. “Hey, Desdemona.” It’s as if he’s looking straight at me—in the room with me—seeing me. “Come to me.” Hairs skitter across the back of my neck. “I’ll get you there, baby.”
Somehow the MC has produced a second mic that overrides the other one and muffles the noise of the audience. “Thanks for being with us for another shocking episode of Marriage Exposure. Tune in tomorrow for an unbelievable brother-in-law who sneaks into bed with his own brother’s wife—” He pauses, moves close to the camera, and raises both eyebrows several times. “—without her knowing it. You’re not going to want to miss this.”
The camera pans over the audience that is now chanting, “Desdemona, Desdemona, Desdemona…”
A diet-pill commercial is halfway over before I shake off the shock enough to silence the TV. Eleanor, my cat, is batting a Brazil nut across the floor. My phone rings. Ugh. It’s Mom. I grab the phone and the ruined lamb’s wool, scoop up the nuts, and hop toward the kitchen to stick my foot in the sink. I would ignore my mother, but if I don’t answer, she’ll call my landlady to come over and make sure I’m not bound and gagged, unconscious, or murdered.
How will I deal with my mother’s shock about Burt’s revelation?
“Mija, where are you?”
“Alone?” She’d like me to be married and have several kids by now. Alone is never a word she welcomes.
“On Saturday night—home alone? With all there is to do in Austin?”
She lets a long silence hang. I would normally fill it with disclaimers about being too tired to go out or the last-minute cancellation of my gig tonight. Instead of chatting her up, I wait her out and run water over my foot. Eleanor, maybe sensing my misery, rubs against my other leg. Nothing I could say will divert Mother from Burt’s blast. I take deep breaths, steadying myself for the onslaught.
She finally seems to realize she’s not getting an explanation about my solitary Saturday night. “How do I say this?” She sighs loudly. “It’s one thing to know people privately, but to see them as a nationally known personality…it’s…it’s…”
“Mom, just say it.” Tears well in my eyes. The reality of an insane TV show barging into my life stabs in places I didn’t know I could hurt.
“OK, OK. Well, it happened while I was with my book-club group at the bookstore.” It’s really just a book corner in the general store on Main Street.
“You’re at the store?” This makes no sense. It’s too late for the store to be open.
“No—I’m not there now. We were there from six to eight tonight for our weekly meeting, and then we went to ladies’ night at the margarita bar and had two-for-ones, and I just now got home. You know that new bar that opened where the bakery used to be?”
There are only a dozen stores in my hometown of Garcia. How could I forget? “Yeah.”
“The antique store is also adding a coffee shop—oh, I’m rambling. Want me to just get to the point?”
I force out a whisper and blot my tear-slicked face with a paper towel. “Yes.”
She takes a deep breath again. No question that she’s unnerved by the conversation we’re about to have. My stomach knots. It will be worse to hear my mother talking about Burt and fake orgasms than it was to hear strangers on national television. I lower my wet but clean foot from the sink so I’m standing solidly. I pick up Eleanor, who allows one of her rare cuddles. She must know I need it.
I gasp. His name triggers the same pow in my chest that happens every time I think of him, or see a stranger tilt his head that certain way, or hear a laugh that mimics Hunter’s deep ring, or dream of kissing him only to wake and remember it will never happen again. Pow.
“Desdemona, are you there? Did you hear me?”
I should answer Mom—say something. It’s been over nine years since Hunter and I were seniors in high school and he left the campus in handcuffs. Nine years since we swore our love to each other. Nine years since I ruined our chances of ever being together. But still the regret and loss slice razor sharp.
“What about Hunter?” My voice scrapes.
“Oh, good, I thought we’d been cut off. Well, we were about to discuss our new novel when all these people flooded in. Not locals, but people from San Antonio, Austin, Houston. It was just amazing. Our quiet little Saturday-night book talk was turning into…”
“What about Hunter?” I can’t fathom where this is going. I’m so caught off guard that for a full two seconds I forget Marriage Exposure.
“I’m getting to him. So Alma went up to the manager and asked, ‘What’s going on?’ And he said a national best-selling mystery writer was here for a book signing. Have you read Des Amone’s books?”
“Yes. Sure I have.”
“Did you read the one that was made into a movie?”
“Mom. Where is this going? What does it have to do with Hunter?”
“Des Amone is Hunter’s pen name. And Hunter came to Garcia to do a hometown launch of his new book tour. It’s all over the Internet, but none of us noticed. You know we mainly stick to romances.”
“Des Amone…” I repeat her words to make sense of them. “…is Hunter’s pen name.”
“Isn’t that a hoot? And ya’ll were in school together.” Mom is oblivious to the relationship I had with Hunter. She lives in her own little world that revolves around her tiny, barely-break-even flower shop with her upstairs living quarters—my home until I moved to Austin. “So we each bought his book, and when he signed mine, he asked about you. Can you believe it—a famous, rich author still remembering a classmate from all those years ago? Isn’t it funny how his pen name kind of sounds like Desdemona?”
She doesn’t wait for me to answer. “So for our next meeting we’re all reading Hunter’s book. You know it’s just so much fun to read a book with a group…”
“What did he say about me? What did you tell him?”
“He just asked how you are, and I told him you were playing all over Austin and giving lessons. I showed him that picture of you in your long, red dress, playing that red baby grand. I think it was taken in some bar on Sixth Street. He said, ‘Still beautiful as ever.’” I shut my eyes and make myself breathe. “We could have talked and talked, but there was a line behind me, so I moved on. I told him to look you up when he goes to Austin on his book tour. And I gave him your number.”
The pow that hit me when she said his name evolves into a melody that fills my chest while she drones on. The melody, not one that I could ever put to music no matter how hard I try, is always there—inside—below the surface. But at times like this it expands, presses, and hurts in the middle of my chest.
Q. D. Purdu’s debut romance FAKING LUCKY, under the title of DESDEMONA FINDS THE BIG O IN LOVE, won first place in the Texas Writers’ League Romance category, 2014. Her novella THE LIGHT WE FOUND, first published in MOTHER'S DAY MAGIC anthology, is now available as a stand-alone short read.
Q. D. loves her rescued puppy, red wine, running through sprinklers, dark chocolate with sugared ginger, and anything wrapped in a corn tortilla. Her prized possessions include a hot pink Christmas tree and a garden full of okra and basil.
She hasn’t decided what she’ll be when she grows up, but whatever it is will be filled with romantic impossibilities.
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