To be completely honest about it, I lied the first two times she caught me.
“It had to be Shane,” was what I said the first time, shaking my head at the screen like I, too, was disgusted beyond belief. And, believe it or not, I was, in my own way, disgusted.
“He was in here last week,” I insisted. “Told me he needed to check on his fantasy football team. I guess I just believed him.”
“Tell Shane,” Annie said, closing out of it and turning the computer off altogether. “That he ain’t welcome in this house anymore.”
I swore that I would and later that night I called him and explained. Shane understood. If there was anything that Shane understood, it was that.
“Settings, Privacy, Clear History,” he said, right before we got off the phone. “Now what’s so damn hard about that?”
“I know,” I said and repeated the words in my head like they were an equation that would save me on some upcoming test.
Settings, Privacy, Clear History. Settings, Privacy, Clear History.
Shane was right. I needed to be smarter about cleaning up my history. No excuse, I thought, after that conversation. No excuse at all, really.
The second time, I blamed it on an email.
“I swear, baby,” I said, putting one hand over my heart and looking her dead in the eye. “I just clicked on it and, out of no where, those screens started popping up. I couldn’t stop them.”
Annie shot me a look that did not mean just one thing. Her mouth drew in tight, that little bone on the corner of her jaw working itself pretty hard, and her eyes seeming half filled with anger and half filled with sadness. It was a look could have meant a hundred things, but what I took away from it was this: “In spite of what I think, I’ll choose to believe you.”
What she actually said was “Can you show me the email?”
“I deleted it,” I said, still holding her eyes with mine. “Right after it happened.”
I crossed the room then and wrapped my arms around her and kissed her on the spot beneath her eye but above her cheek.
“You know my heart,” I whispered, kissing her ear-lobe to punctuate the thought.
“I do,” she replied, in what was really more a breath than it was a whisper.
“I do,” she repeated, taking one of my hands in both of hers and squeezing them like they were rags and she was trying to wring out the very last drop of water.
We met in high-school. She sat behind me in Spanish and used to giggle when I would get called on to pronounce those words. I would ask the teacher to sharpen my pencil and the teacher, a fiery old bird from Argentina or somewhere, would snap her fingers and say, “En Espanol, por favor.”
Imagine: a dumb hick like me saying a word like sacapuntas. I would have laughed at someone like me too.
I could write well enough, though, and it wasn’t long before I was doing that old trick where you lean back in your desk, pretending to stretch, and then, when the teacher isn’t looking, drop a note right on top the person’s book.
I sent her a note that said, “Hi.”
She sent it back and it said, “Hola.”
So I sent it back saying “Como estas?”
She sent it back saying “Bien, y tu?”
It went on like that for a while and although she never admitted it, I’m pretty sure Annie was using big words on purpose, just to make me use my Spanish-English dictionary. Just to make me work.
Eventually, I wrote, in English: “What are you doing tonight?”
“Youth group,” she wrote back.
“What is that?” I wrote.
“Come and see,” she wrote back with a little smiley face right beneath the words.
Three weeks later I was kneeling on the cold floor of a church basement with a couple dozen teenagers gathered around me, laying their hands all over my shoulders and my head as I repeated a prayer back to the youth pastor. When he was finished praying, I stood up and everybody started cheering and high-fiving and congratulating me. The youth pastor gave me a Bible with my name written in the front and told me my sins had been forgiven. Annie had tears rolling down her cheeks. I was saved. Pure as snow, the pastor said. Nothing on earth could touch me.
We both tried community college. I studied automotive stuff. She was part of a bridge program that was supposed to get you into the nursing department at the real college a couple hours away. I stayed for a semester. She did three. “College isn’t for everyone,” a guidance counselor once told me.
It worked out, though, because my uncle was a contractor and always had plenty of work. And Annie ended up getting hired at a nursing home, which, if you think about it, isn’t that much different from being a nurse at a hospital.
I remember coming home from work one day and she was sitting on the step outside of my apartment. She had something in her hand that looked like a high-lighter, only it was white. I got out of my car and she walked right up to me, eyes all red from crying, and handed me that high-lighter. And I held it up to my face and studied those two lines. Looked like a tiny blue crossroads in a tiny field of white. I didn’t need to be told what they meant. I was a hick, but I wasn’t that dumb.
So we talked it over.
“Are you sure though?” she asked me, after we had been sitting on that step together so long that the sun had gone down and the fireflies had come out and the moon hung like a half-eaten cookie in the trees behind my house.
“I am,” I said and got down on a knee even though my hands were empty. “I swear it.”
And down there on that pavement, I looked up at Annie and she was giving me a look that could have meant a hundred things, but what I took away from it was this: “In spite of what I think, I willchoose to believe you.”
We got married at the courthouse. She swore she didn’t mind.
Once, about a week before the wedding, we were having dinner at Annie’s parents’ house and she asked me to run to the Bi-Lo to pick up some shredded cheese for the salad. I guess I got it quicker than she expected, though, because when I opened the front door, they were still fighting in the kitchen. I listened and only felt a little guilty about it.
Her dad wasn’t saying much. It was mainly her mom. Nothing I hadn’t heard before though. Stuff about our ages, stuff about my job. “You’re not ready” was the gist of it.
What Annie said, though, I will never forget. After listening to everything her mom had said, she only said one thing.
“Mom,” she damn near whispered. “He’s a good Christian man. A good Christian man.”
I let my boot hit the door-frame on the way in and that was the end of that.
Here’s the thing: the third time she caught me—and that was the time she actually caught me—I felt rotten for having lied so many times.
Annie walked in and saw everything. As quick as I moved to cover myself and turn the monitor off, she still saw everything.
Shane said that if his wife caught him like that, she would have beaten him with her shoe. He said that his wife would have cursed him out and called him all kinds of names and looked around for something hard to hit him with whenever using her shoe got boring. “She would never let something like that go,” he said.
Annie didn’t do any of that. She just brought her hands up to her face the same way she does when she is covering a sneeze. She just held her hands there and shook her head and walked out of the room. She shut the door behind her.
I might have reached her before she got to her car, but the monitor took a few seconds to cut back on and then there’s that little hourglass that pops up right after you click Clear History. I swear I heard the gravel in the driveway scatter right as the last grain of sand fell. That last grain fell and a grey rectangular box appeared that told me my history was gone. It told me that nothing on earth could touch me.
This story was originally published September 22, 2014.
© 2014 Daniel Leach
Dan Leach is from South Carolina, but currently lives and works in Nebraska. His fiction can be read in The New Madrid Review, Deep South Magazine, drafthorse, The Wayfarer, and elsewhere. He is currently at work on his first novel.