Excerpts for Comfort of Lies


The Comfort of Lies

CHAPTER 3

Caroline


After five years of marriage, Peter still made love to Caroline as though realizing his life's dream. Being the object of his lust never failed to rouse her own. Exercising on the treadmill, Caroline labored through work problems, scratching ideas in tiny journals she kept in her pockets. Riding the train to work, she caught up with medical journals; driving to visit her parents, she listened to audiobooks. Only with her husband did she remember her corporeal being. There was no other time she left her mind and lived inside her body.

Peter thought her beautiful, he thought her sexy, and he made her believe it, if only for the moments she lay with him. She didn't live under illusions. Much of her belief system boiled down to "What it is, is." Caroline knew she was more wholesome than bombshell. Before Peter, she'd limited her relationships to men who marched to the same beat as she did: quiet songs, gentle dances. Peter unlocked her fervor.

"Come on, you're incredible," Peter declared when she scoffed at his compliments. Where her honest doctor eyes saw wheat-colored hair not dramatic enough to call blonde, an easy-to-forget face, and a slat-like build, Peter declared her graceful and pure, and then delineated how those qualities turned him on. She knew it was her difference from every woman he'd grown up with that excited him: she was his upper-class unattainable woman--just as his unrestrained fervor, so different from the boys she grew up with, provided the same thrill for her.

After, they lingered in the bedroom, as they did every Sunday. Coffee cups, plates covered with crumbs, and orange rinds littered their bedside tables.

"Listen to this, Caro." Peter cleared his throat and, using his public voice--the one he used at investor meetings--read aloud from his laptop:

"Forecasters believe the strongest economic growth in two decades is in front of us. Businesses are investing in new plants and equipment and rehiring laid-off workers. Most economists predict 2004 should be an excellent year, and that this should be a predictor for years to come."

"Mmm," Caroline responded, the words not really registering. Peter grasped financial concepts instantly, while she found economic analysis so dry that it crumbled before it traveled from her ears to her brain. "Online news?" She pulled up the covers a bit.

"Yes, but it's a well-regarded site. Do you know what this means?"

"Not a clue, actually, beyond the facts as presented. But I'm sure you do." Caroline smiled, waiting for Peter to spill his theories. He shared his thoughts as they occurred to him. Peter tended to think out loud, while Caroline let ideas percolate for days, weeks, or longer before opening them to question.

"It means folks will be investing like crazy," Peter said. "They'll think they're hopping on the money train. Do you know what that means?"

She leaned her head on his shoulder. They were close to a match in height. "No." He did their accounting; she kept their space in perfect order. Having disparate interests freed each of the boring and baffling portions of life. "Do you want to watch the fireworks tomorrow night?"

"Yes, and don't change the subject. Listen, we're in a perfect-storm place. The naïve of the world--meaning most--will believe, once again, that uptrends in stocks and real estate will continue forever--exactly the mythology which leads to insanity in the market."

"Ah. Interesting. The masses moving in lockstep." She picked up Pediatric Blood & Cancer.

Peter pushed down the journal. "Caro, I'm not just commenting. This could be important to us."

Like the obedient student she'd always been, Caroline let the magazine drop in her lap and turned to her husband. "Okay. I'm listening."

"If we time this right, we'll have an opportunity."

She nodded as though she'd have some part in this, when in reality, we meant Peter, who meshed with money. Building a pile of cash excited him beyond the security and buying power it represented.

"When the business goes public next year, I'm betting our company stock prices will soar. Everyone wants . . . "

Her attention wandered a little, knowing what she was going to hear: Sound & Sight Software, Peter's company, would provide a platform for X and integrate Y, etc., etc.

She nodded and picked up her coffee cup, trying to read the journal lying in her lap.

"That's why we should start looking for a baby now," Peter said. "Do you see what I'm saying?"

Now Caroline looked up. She clutched the handle of her mug. "What?"

Peter put a firm hand on her knee. "Were you listening?"

She shook her head. "Not closely enough," she said. "Say it again. The part about the baby, not the money."

"But they're very related, hon. Look: soon I'll need to focus on business in a different way. I feel it. Now's the time to concentrate on getting our baby. Before work explodes, before everything crashes, when I can be the one to pick up all the work left from guys who got lost in the wreckage."

Peter shared her love of work: both of them were busy puritans turning the wheels of life. However, to Peter, life included a family--preferably a large one. He would be a spectacular father. Caroline couldn't imagine a better man for the job, but she didn't long for motherhood. That twenty-four-hour-a-day enthusiasm for the activity of children wasn't in her.

Her own mother's passion for Caroline and her sisters had always been evident. Caroline didn't want to offer her own children anything less, but she lacked the instinct for self-sacrifice. Once home, she didn't want anyone forcing her to put down her journals or interrupting her studies.

Becoming a mother terrified her so much that Caroline could barely hide her relief when she couldn't get pregnant, and Peter's sperm had turned out to be the problem.

But then Peter, in his usual style of Okay, how do I solve this problem, and how quickly can I make it go away? began investigating adoption. She'd left all the research and decision making to him, a stance he'd always accepted. Peter liked being in charge. That's why he'd chosen identified adoption, deeming it safer. He wanted to see the mother for himself, not leave their life decisions to anonymous social workers. "Better the devil you know," he'd declared.

Peter researched while Caroline did something totally out of character: she went into denial. Now, once again, the truth of every matter faced her: what was, was.

"Now?" she asked. "Really now?"

He sat up straighter and crossed his legs, pushing away the blanket. "It's not that I'm saying now or never, but now is the best time."

"I'm not sure. It's so busy at work, and--"

"Honey, we'll always have a reason to say ‘Not now.' We'll always be busy. But we can make time, and we'll make room." He scanned their cramped bedroom. "Though we'll need more space. We might as well do it all up at once, eh? Look for the right neighborhood, right schools. Find the right house. My guess? Real estate will also drop soon."

Caroline--calm, always-good-in-an-emergency, hard-to-ruffle Caroline--felt as though she'd have an anxiety attack if he said one more word. "No," she said.

"No?"

"I love our apartment," she said. "I love our neighborhood."

"We need to find a place with great schools."

"We can find private schools," Caroline insisted. "Like you said, we'll have the money. I won't do well in the suburbs."

"That's just fear talking. I know how much you hate transition, but really, you're going to be a wonderful mother wherever we are."

No she wouldn't.

"You're perfect. Calm and loving. Smart. You're always grounded. I adore that about you." He stroked her arm.

"Grounded? How romantic."

"And funny. Did I mention funny?"

She managed a smile. "No one ever described me as funny."

"Oops, I meant that I was funny. And that you were smart to marry me."

She had been smart to marry him. He lightened her, he cosseted her, he made her into a better person--more aware of the world beyond her boundaries. But she didn't want to change anything. Their life: she loved the way their life was now. A baby would ruin everything.

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