bar painting, the lounge bar by Theo Michael, read this short story inspired by this painting

What Is The Price For Betrayal

The Hotel bar had seen better days. A retro style from the 80’s, but it was clean and comfortable. Empty, a perfect place for a private discussion.

 Steve Andrews, his head buried in the newspaper, glanced furtively around every second or two. His companion, sitting close, puffed on his cigarette until his well overdue patience had run out.

‘’Well you invited me here, Steve. What is bothering you?’’

‘’Sorry James,’’ Steve stammered,  ‘’I need your help. This is such a private matter, I am embarrassed to ask. It is driving me crazy and I just can’t sleep. I am walking the streets all night. I think my wife is having an affair. There you have it. I blurted it out.’’

‘’What?’’ James interrupted, ‘’I am so sorry to hear that. You must feel devastated. Can I help in any way? You want a shoulder to lean on, I am here for you.’’

Steve Andrews put his paper down and looked at his friend for a minute or so, ‘’I want you to tail her….”

James choked, “you want me to what?” He asked.

Steve continued, “I want you to tail her, and find out what she has been up to. I’m convinced she is seeing another man. It’s the little things that have changed. She doesn’t care for me anymore, she doesn’t talk to me the way she used to, and she doesn’t care for our home in the same way.”

James was skeptical, “Those are normal things to happen in a marriage, Steve. They don’t mean she is sleeping with someone else, necessarily.”

“Well that’s it,” Steve continued. “We aren’t having sex anymore. Whenever I broach the subject with her she makes excuses. Something is up and I am sure she is having relations with someone else. I can just tell. Call it a sixth sense.” 

“Tailing her is kind of drastic,” James commented. “Why not try and talk to her about it?”

“I have. She just makes excuses. I can’t make her see how things have changed, and that something isn’t right.”

James thought deeply for a moment. This was Steve, one of his most stalwart friends and colleagues. It wasn’t like him to overreact. While it was a bit of a shot in the dark it did sound like something was wrong with his marriage. While maybe he wouldn’t see her having an affair by tailing her, he might find out something else that would help enlighten Steve about what was going on.

“I’m at the office most of the day. It’s just one of those things where she has a tremendous amount of freedom and I think she is using it against me. We’ve been married two years now and perhaps she found someone new. It’s the only explanation that makes sense.”

“Ok, Steve,” James began. “I will do it for you, but only because it’s you. Give me the details and I will follow her for a few days and see if I can find out something.”

—————————————

The day began simply enough with James parking discreetly outside Steve’s house in the mountains. He registered Steve’s wife’s car, a beautiful classic red convertible and tried to see what he could of the house, but there wasn’t much to be seen over the hillside, although he caught sight of her a few times through the windows. She was as beautiful as the first time he laid eyes on her, dark hair and oily skin. Her name was Ariana and she came from one of the local villages. Steve had met her at a wedding, funnily enough, and they had been inseparable ever since. That was four years ago, and their wedding had been one of the biggest on the island for many a year. James had been Steve’s best man and together they had celebrated long into the night. He had always got on with Ariana and never thought for a moment she would stray. Why would she? Steve was her benefactor as well as husband. What a wonderful life they had? Why would she jeopardise it for a silly fling?

Finally, around lunch time, after many hours meandering in his car, Ariana exited the house in a small and stylish summer dress and handbag approaching her car. So far nothing unusual. James hung back just the right amount as they both pulled into the road and began their journey.

First stop was a petrol station and James parked across the road as Ariana filled up her tank. Was she planning a long journey or was it just time to fill up her car? He noticed that she didn’t talk to anyone else and kept to herself, filling up the car and then paying at the pay station.

Back on the road he contemplated that maybe Steve was right. Maybe things had grown stale and Ariana was looking for some excitement in her life. People don’t think of consequences when they cheat, and maybe the thrill of it all was too much for her to resist. But, who could it be? Maybe a local town man from one of the villages? Maybe someone who was working on the house? James wasn’t sure.

Ariana pulled into the driveway of a restaurant and James followed her parking in the rear. He watched her get out of the car, and was reminded just how stunningly beautiful she was. She was one of the most attractive women on the island, and he could see how it would cause Steve no end of consternation worrying about what she was up to in his absence. He could understand the paranoia, because she was simply incredible.

His suspicions were only heightened when he noticed Ariana take a seat in the restaurant alongside another man. He was tall and handsome and not unlike Steve. James got a booth table and sat in the shadows, drinking a club soda. He watched the couple closely. They seemed affectionate and warm to each other, like old friends. 

An hour passed. The two of them chatted like old friends, and James watched them closely as they ordered their food and drank. The entire time he was becoming more certain of Ariana’s infidelity although he couldn’t detect any overt flirtation there was a friendliness about the couple that was grating on him.

Eventually, James couldn’t contain his frustration. Here she was, really cheating on Steve, he was suddenly sure. Steve had been right, and she was betraying him before his very eyes. He thought about waiting to follow them to a specific rendezvous at a hotel. He thought about having to endure this betrayal further and he couldn’t bring himself to wait a moment later.

He stormed over to their table and motioned frustratedly with his hands. “What is this?” He said animatedly. “What is going on here?”

Ariana was shocked, “James, what are you doing here?”

“I was sitting over there and could see you with this man. What are you doing cheating on Steve?
I know that he has been good to you, and this is how you repay him?”

Ariana swallowed and waited a moment, before surprisingly the man volunteered.

“There is nothing untoward here, sir. We are completely innocent.”

James didn’t believe it for a second, “I can see by the way she looks at you that something very wrong is going on here.”

“You are mistaken,” the man continued. “My name is George, and I am her cousin. We haven’t seen each other in some time, maybe a couple of years, because I have been out of the country.”

“George contacted me yesterday,” Ariana spoke, “to let me know he was in town. We arranged to meet here to catch up. There really is nothing going on James. I am disappointed in you thinking so.”

James finally started to see that he was the one who was out of order. “Perhaps, I am mistaken after all.”

“It is okay James,” Ariana said. “I can understand how it looked but, sincerely, there is nothing going on.”

George was leaving and said his goodbyes to Ariana. They hugged and kissed. James said he would drive with Ariana back to the house to make sure she got home safely.

When they arrived at the home Ariana invited James into the house, as she had some questions that she wanted to ask.

“James, was Steve asking you to follow me?”

“Not at all, I was at the restaurant of my own volition.”

“He hasn’t been treating me at all well, I’ll have you know. He has been very harsh around the house, and he no longer takes me out to dinner, or wants to be seen with me in public. Honestly, things aren’t like they used to be. He focuses more on work than me.”

James saw that there was some crossed wires here, but as she spoke he couldn’t help but fall into her gaze. She was so beautiful. Her face was as pretty as the sun shining on the beach in the early morning. Her body was wonderful and tanned beneath her subtle small dress. Whatever the problem was he couldn’t believe that Steve wasn’t satisfied, although he could see why he might be prone to jealousy.

“I need a man in my life, not a tourist who shows up on the rare occasion that he wants to.”

James couldn’t help but move closer to her where she sat. Tears were welling in her eyes. 

“I am so lonely,’’ Ariana admitted.

He moved closer to comfort her and she leaned across him and buried her head in his shoulder. 

“Please James, please try and understand what I have been going through.”

She lifted her head and they looked deeply into each other’s eyes. First their noses touched. Then their lips. It was happening all at once, and James felt as though his body was out of control. 

“Oh James,” Ariana whispered, and then they were kissing and enraptured in their emotions. What happened next was not planned. Feelings of guilt took a back seat to sex, as it always does.

————————

Steve was waiting for James at the bar they frequented together, the same bar in which he had asked James to tail Ariana. James arrived on time, and ordered at the bar before taking his seat next to his friend. 

“So my friend, it has been four days. What have you found out about my dear Ariana? I can tell that there is something.”

James took a moment and then began his carefully rehearsed speech.

“I come here today to tell you this, my friend. Ariana is one hundred percent faithful to your marriage. I followed her for many days, and there was nothing out of the ordinary. She is worthy of your trust, and I am here to reassure you that she is completely honourable.”

Steve seemed immensely relieved, “Oh my dear friend that is wonderful news. Thank you for this service you have done me. I have had my doubts but now I am reassured by you, my most loyal of friends.”

Steve embraced him and then they drank together. James felt the guilt in his entire body, but he knew that whatever went on between him and Ariana he would never tell Steve. There was too much to lose and he would never understand. One way or another he would make sure that Steve would never discover the truth and that, discreetly, his discovered passion with Ariana could continue on, because that was all that mattered to him now. He was in love.

‘’You’ve told me the words that I wanted to hear, and I do truly find them comforting and reassuring.’’ Steve interrupted his thoughts. ‘’I don’t want to harm our solid friendship, but I need to ask you, is there something that you’re not telling me?’’

James felt ashamed and a sudden uncertainty, but without any hesitation lied outright, ‘’absolutely nothing!’

‘’My dear friend, I do find your words soothing, but unfortunately hard to reconcile,’ Steve said, ‘’because only last night, Ariana confided in me many things, including her desire of not being so lonely. I’ve invited her to join us here today. What she spoke off has been weighing heavily on my mind.’’

James felt cornered, and very uncomfortable. He froze in terror as the newspaper, folded in half, lying on the table all this time, slid back to reveal a small revolver glistening in the cold light of day.
Fear and panic set in with feelings of deep regret.

‘’For the last time James, for Ariana’s sake, is there anything you wish to add....?’’

What is the price for betrayal?

Story by Marc Michael & Theo Michael  

 

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