The discussion stopped being about whether he was cheating and turned into whether he was using protection. Catherine had decided to stay with Edward even with his infidelities because what was love if not affection, companionship and security, which Edward gave her abundantly even when he came home reeking of another woman’s scent.
She had accepted, accepted that men were not loyal and that they would always have something on the side. She had made up her mind and decided that it was okay for him to have every woman in the city as long as she was the domina. The woman he came home to, provided for and whose bed he warmed on those days when she needed him to.
She still remembered their first date. Twenty, in campus, naïve, living her relationship fantasies vicariously through celebrity couples. He was twenty-eight, with a steady job and good to look at—pleasing not only to the eyes but also the senses. She had crushed on him almost instantly.
“Why did you pick me?” Those were the first words that escaped her mouth when they sat down for their first date. As if she could foretell the future. The future of a trove of women lined up; with Edward picking the one that best suited his moods. Like a pair of trousers or an accessory like a watch or a piece of jewelry.
Edward laughed because Catherine had picked him. With her yellow skin which shone like the sun at noon. A sultry frame made of firm breasts and a round bottom that could only look the way it did at twenty, and that top with a dipping cleavage that made her exquisitely provocative. The fact that she was oblivious to all of it only entranced him more. No, he did not pick her. Her breathtaking beauty picked him.
More than picking, they had chemistry. A kind of effortless rapport that saw them laughing often—with tracts of time disappearing whenever they were in each other’s company. That had made her move in. And now here they were, sharing each other’s toothbrushes and towels and having a discussion about whether he was using protection because being faithful was out of the equation.
It stung the day Catherine opened the Instagram story of one of her so called friends and saw her in what looked like a seedy hotel room wearing Edward’s boxers with the caption, ‘Pettiness is a mood’. She knew those boxers because she had bought them.
That night she made excuses for him, God knows she did. ‘If I bought the boxers another woman could have as well bought them for her man; what is so wrong if that woman is my friend? Another man could have bought them for himself too; it’s not as if they were custom made.’ But her friend’s caption and how freely she danced in those boxers with the confidence of long-term familiarity made it difficult to continue lying to herself. She could not stand it anymore and she shook Edward out of slumber.
“Of all the women, it had to be my friend?”
They broke up and Catherine moved back to her campus hostel. Two weeks later she came back for her clothes. A turbulent session of make-up sex later, she was making him dinner with no plans of going back to her hostel.
She still remembered the first time he took her. It was after their first date. It was weird how she felt as if she had known him all her life. It was the laughter and the conversations that bewitched her. They sat on his sofa and she let her hand rest lightly on his knee. Their eyes locked and Edward held her face. His lips found hers and then his hands fell to her breasts, to her waist, lower still until they found the inner workings of her thighs. Hot skin against hot skin after, she was his, both body and spirit.
Sex for her came with attachments. After he took her, she was ready to be wed. Marriage was not something Edward was ready for, so she settled for a come-we-stay and now here she was, her worst nightmare a reality. She had heard tales of men cheating. She had even heard that they cheat with their girlfriend’s friends but it had sounded distant, a participle that was so removed from her that it was fiction. She never thought even for a second that it could hit so close to home. That she would be living, dining and sleeping with it.
What was she to do with her boyfriend’s infidelities? she had mused. She couldn’t take a cane and flog him like he was a child. She couldn’t deny him sex; she loved it too much and she couldn’t move on to another relationship. No, it was too much work to start something from scratch and knowing her luck, she would probably fall into the arms of another dubious character.
“I love you but I still want the warmth of other women, is that such a sin?” It was another night of ‘protection’ talks and Edward was going on without subtlety. Honesty was his one redeeming quality so when he said he used protection Catherine believed him but it still pinched.
‘Love’. Catherine had let that word simmer within her. Taking a sip to see whether she liked the taste. What was love? Was it affection? Companionship? Security? Because if those nouns were the definition of love then she loved Edward. But if love was respect, desire and loyalty then she was not in love because those elements waned every day he came home with a strange scent and they opened the protection discussion.
“Besides you’re my first lady, my number one,” Edward was reinforcing his argument.
Should that make her happy? That the whores were taken in private and not acknowledged in public? The whores who were now ever confident and poised in their role, mannerlessly calling her out on their social sites and gossiping rooms?
“You know what, you’re right,” she smiled and kissed him on the cheek. Three years into the relationship, Catherine could only lie on the bed she had made.
She got pregnant on the fourth year of their relationship. She did not have a doubt in her mind that Edward would be a great father. It was how he had fixed the store into a playroom and spent hours in between the pages of books and YouTube channels learning about childcare. He might be unfaithful but she knew he would take care of his own and for some reason she felt happy to have persevered through the infidelities.
He was beside her on the hospital bed as she pushed, huffed and cursed like some rabid beast, encouraging her that she could do it. That she had gone through worse and this was a small hill compared to all the mountains she had conquered and for some reason that gave her strength. She did not need desire, respect and loyalty, she thought, not when she had affection, companionship and security.
They brought the baby home. A strong, healthy girl. For a while they wouldn’t need to have the protection discussion, she knew. Not with Edward so taken with the child. It was admirable how he jumped at her slightest reaction and attended to her every need. It was also admirable how everyone, including Edward, said how much she looked like her dad even though Catherine knew better.
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