Every human, whether they know it or not, has two hearts. Not in the same way that cows have four stomachs or the common housefly has millions of eyes. No, there is one heart to keep you physically alive, obviously. Its existence is rarely seen by the naked eye or felt unless pressed against; we hardly even think about it, yet if it suddenly decided it wanted a break, we would be in a sight of trouble. It’s kind of like we have our own God, beating away in our chests, shouting to be acknowledged and rarely getting the credit.
The other kind of heart, the kind that makes you soften your anger after a child tearfully apologizes for their wrongdoing; the kind that makes you stop and help a stranger; the kind that makes you still feel a multitude of emotions despite the fact that it’s been cut and bruised nearly beyond repair – that kind of heart had been cut out of the chest of Robin Cortez and packed on ice (in case she ever needed it again) since, well, roughly an hour ago when she discovered her husband had been conducting a 3-year love affair during their 16-year marriage. Nearly a quarter of their union had been stolen, usurped, by, by whom? A woman – a friend – who even now was probably cradling her bastard child to sleep, smiling at how she’d gotten what she wanted: a tie to Marius Cortez that would not break no matter how great a machete Robin tried to bring against it.
The sun beat down mercilessly on Robin’s head, trying to melt her into the sand as she ran along the California coast. She preferred to run here instead of the boardwalk or the concrete; the slight give of the sand beneath her feet made her feel that she was not only running, but climbing at the same time. The rush of the ocean filling her ears, the sprinkling drops it left on her golden calves refreshed her and filled her with new purpose…normally.
Today? She wanted to pour herself into it, to turn into water, until all the questions were answered. Typically, she thought, the biggest one would be why? but for her, at this moment, it was how? Breathing heavily, the one heart she had left pounding like a hailstorm, she stopped running and lowered her trim figure onto the hot sand, only able to stare at the pulsing waves and contemplate this question.
How could Marius have done this to her? And with – Robin couldn’t even formulate the witch’s name in her mind.
How had they managed to keep this undercover for three whole years? Along that same line, how had she been so blind? She recalled all the times that the Woman had been invited over for dinner, all the times Robin and Marius’ daughter Chelsea had come home, still laughing after a great evening spent at the movies with her adopted aunt, all the times…suddenly, it felt like the blood had left Robin’s face and yet was pounding through it, expanding it until it exploded at the same time. Bile filled her throat.
Chelsea, her beautiful 14 year old daughter with Marius, had been the bastard’s babysitter. The dark-eyed cherub had been bounced on Robin’s own knee at various times.
A sperm bank. The lie seemed so hopelessly full of holes now. How had she looked and not seen? The eyes staring back at Robin through the infant were the same eyes she’d been staring into and falling in love with every day for the last 18 years. The eyes that had been filled with laughter on their first date when Robin had dropped a shrimp in her lap and hoped he hadn’t noticed…the eyes that had welled with tears when she said yes and again when she married him. When Chelsea had been born, something unidentifiable had been in those eyes – a mixture of absolute joy and definite terror.
But above all, they had been her eyes. Hers because they belonged to him and she belonged to him. Hers because she’d learned to see life how he saw it.
His chocolate brown eyes and her sea-blue eyes had become one pair. Before this day, Robin had often wondered what color that would make between them.
Now she knew. It was an unending palette of black.
Marius Cortez had been pacing the walls of his office for at least an hour, fairly certain that the words last spoken there were bouncing and repeating off the walls. He couldn’t escape them, no matter where he went in the house though. Might as well stay where he felt the most welcome.
He had hoped this day would never come, but hopes were nothing compared to the power of rumor and his guilt. He had walked into this morning with no sleep and even less than the usual spring in his step. At the age of 40, Marius had been priding himself on his energy and verve for life; Robin had always appreciated it as well, but he was sure that after today, she would consider that he’d had a little too much energy and verve.
Marius ran his fingers through his still-full head of black, curly hair. Ah, who was he kidding? He’d be lucky if Robin cared to appreciate or consider anything about him anymore after what he’d done.
“You bastard. You fucking, cheating bastard!” She’d screamed. “I thought…I thought we promised each other we weren’t going to end up like all our other friends, Marius! What were you thinking? And with her? Have you lost your mind?”
“I know, baby, I just—“
“Don’t call me baby, dickhead. I just want the facts. You better give me everything, Marius, or I swear to God—“
Marius felt a spark of anger. “Watch your words carefully, Robin. God is in this room now. He can hear what you say against him.”
Robin’s mouth dropped open in shock. “Is he, Marius? Is he here? Do you think he cares more about what I say or about the fact that you trampled the vows you made before him into a grave beneath that whore’s bed? You tell me, Marius Cortez, ordained giver of the Word, almighty beneficiary of the Light! Wait until your congregation finds out what a hypocrite, how full of bullshit you are!” She almost laughed, until she felt a slap across her face that she never saw coming.
Marius instantly regretted it, but would not back down. “Now you listen to me. The church does not need to know about this. I have acknowledged that it was a mistake and a sin, and I believe I’ve made my peace with God on that matter. But you have to think about Chelsea, the fallout that everyone knowing would have on her. Think of this house, the cars – I will lose my position if this gets out. You want to leave our home? You want to go back to eating with food stamps?”
Robin touched a hand to her red face. She looked at him, her eyes filled with tears. Saying nothing, she left the office, slamming the door behind her.
Marius was shaken out the memory by the door opening, seemingly as quickly as it had been closed. Robin re-entered the office, her body shaking and covered with sweat, her blonde hair hanging in wet tendrils around her face. At any other time than this, Marius would have found her desirable; however, he wasn’t a fan of angry lovemaking.
“I’ve thought about what you said. And as wrong as you’ve been, you are right that Chelsea doesn’t need to suffer for her father’s mistakes. I won’t tell the church – I won’t even raise suspicions by leaving you – but I have one condition.”
Marius’ stomach paradoxically rose and sank. “And?”
“You must send that…that woman and her child away. I never want to see them again, I never want you to see them again and I never want to hear their names even spoken. That’s all. I should ask for your testicles in a vise, but that might make for awkward conversation with your parishioners.”
His throat closed but he forced the words out. “I…I can agree to that. But you have to give them time to find another place to live; you have to understand that you’re asking her to leave her job, her life, everything behind. And I want to thank you for being so merciful and forgiving; you’re more Christ-like than I have been…” Tears of regret filled his eyes, but Robin was not moved.
“No, you understand me, Marius. I am merciful, and I will continue to be your doting wife for all appearances. We will live in the same house, share the same bed and raise the same daughter.” There was fire in her eyes. “But I will not forgive you.”
He couldn’t hold it in any longer; a sob broke past the barrier in his throat, followed by another and another until he felt like he couldn’t breathe. His second heart was being ripped away from him piece by piece and there was nothing he could do but sell it over to keep his life intact. The woman and the child, oh, the child, were all but sewn into the fabric of who he was; yet so were Robin and Chelsea. It was as though he had been made with two co-existing threads keeping him together; to undo one would only destroy the other.
Oh, my God, what have I done?
This thought echoed through his mind long after Robin left, long after the sun had gone down. But, unlike other times, there was no answering reply.