July 3rd was the day before Tina was supposed to be Nate’s date to his brother’s wedding. I hadn’t realized when I was asked about her going that it would ruin Independence Day for us, but, Nate and Tina would have fewer opportunities to see each other with him in California, so I tried not to let that bother me. Just that day, Tina let me know she was going out to play bingo with Nate and Amber. I had the day off, but she didn’t ask me to come along. Instead, she just told me that Nate was going to be picking her up.
Tina was busy doing something in her bedroom and Maura came into the living room while I was reading emails on my phone. “Are you going with to Bingo?” she asked me.
“I don’t think so. I wasn’t invited.”
Maura didn’t say anything, but turned and marched right into Tina’s bedroom, closing the door behind her. I could guess at the conversation.
Tina came out a bit later. “Would you like to go to Bingo with us?”
“If you want me to. I got the idea you didn’t want me to go.” I felt like some snot-nosed little tag-along step-brother her mom was making her bring.
“Of course I do. I just didn’t think you’d be interested. You can come if you want to, but if you want to stay here, I’ll understand.”
“Sure. I’ll go. Then I can drive and Nate won’t have to come all the way down here to pick you up.”
Tina got busy texting Nate about this development, then went back into the bedroom. I followed her in and saw that she was packing an overnight bag.
“What’s with the bag?” I asked, surprised.
“Oh. We’re going to spend the night at Amber’s and all go to the wedding from there, tomorrow,” she rummaged in her dresser as she spoke.
First I’d heard of it. I was feeling a bit anxious. Something was up.
Nate was Amber’s roommate at one time, so it didn’t seem that out of line that he’d be spending the night with her while he was in town. If they were all going to the wedding together, it made sense, but I thought it was more than odd that Tina never bothered to mention any overnight plans to me until she was about to carry them out.
I thought it was important to give Tina her space and was leery about asking any questions that may make me seem suspicious. Tina had done a tremendous job of convincing me that I’d been paranoid and delusional, making wild, hurtful accusations in my drinking days, so I was cautious with that. I’d also made one particularly damning mistake I never wanted to repeat. I was wrong about that one thing. Very wrong. I said nothing further on the subject and decided to see what Bingo would bring.
Tina put her bag in my van and we drove out to a Cinema bar for Bingo night. We were the first to arrive by a considerable span. Nate, Amber and Shelly, a lady friend of Nate’s I’d never met before joined us at the table, while Tina and I were just finishing dinner.
I bought Tina and I some Bingo cards and I won $40 on the first game. Not a bad start. Everyone at our table won at least one round, except for Tina.
Nate was enthused to talk about his new home. “California’s great, but there’s no Renaissance Festival, he was saying.
“Maybe not like here, but there are renaissance fairs everywhere,” I put in.
“There’s nothing like the Minnesota Renaissance Festival, but we do have Burning Man.”
As it happened, I had just read an article about Burning Man and Tina’s next weekend away from me for Rock Fest was on my mind. I also felt like probing the attitudes and mores of Tina’s friends, whom I’d still not had much chance to get to know after 3 years. “Burning Man is the hookup capitol of music festivals,” I said. “Bunch of alternative lifestyle folks. Dirty unwashed hippies, free love and all that.” I think I let just a hint of my disdain for the notion shine through.
I had everyone’s attention, but Tina lurched in first. “Then we should go there and consummate our open relationship and have a contest to see who can get the most STDs!”
“Gross,” I replied. “Let’s not!” That quip about ‘our open relationship’ stuck with me. It only seemed half-joking. Tina’s behavior had been bothering me all day. She was not herself and I got the impression she was trying to manage the conversation between her friends and I.
As the drinks and conversation flowed, it became apparent that Amber was not attending the wedding, contrary to my earlier impression.
After Bingo wrapped up, Tina asked me to have a cigarette out on the patio with her so we excused ourselves. Outside, I sparked up an American Spirit.
Tina seemed nervous. She didn’t light one of her own cigarettes. “I forgot something. I’ll be right back,” she said, hurrying back into the bar while I took a drag.
I finished my cigarette alone. Tina came back out as I was extinguishing it. “Well,” she said, it’s getting late, and it’s getting to be about that time for us to get going.” She seemed even more nervous than before. There was almost a look of desperation in her eyes.
The sun was still up. I guessed it was about nine.
“Really?” I was surprised. “You guys are calling it a night already?”
“We’re not calling it a night, we’re just going to get back to Amber’s. We’ll probably have a couple drinks there before we go to bed.” She fidgeted.
“So, I’m going to have to get my bag out of your van.”
She put her cigarette out after just a few drags and made for the door. I followed her back into the bar and we went back to our table. Nate was absent.
“Where did Nate go?” Tina asked. “I have to put my bag in his car.”
“Bathroom,” replied Shelly.
Tina took a seat.
“We could just go put your bag into Amber’s car,” I suggested, seeing her approaching the table.
“No. That’s OK. I want to put it in Nate’s car,” Tina replied.
My suspicion level had already been elevated. Now I knew I was being managed and manipulated. Some part of my brain was putting a curtain over the big picture, though. I wanted to believe Tina’s intentions were basically innocent, but I tested the waters. “Make sure and keep Tina out of trouble tonight,” I floated to Amber.
“That’s a tall order,” she replied noncommittally. Amber had a hint of nervous energy about her, too, but I didn’t know her well enough to read her face. She might have been confused.
Nate came back to the table.
“Well,” Tina took charge, “if everyone’s settled up, should we get going?” She half-swiveled in her seat as if to get up.
“Let me finish my drink,” Shelly said.
Amber also had some beer left.
Tina turned back towards the group, engaging in a lot of chatter. I didn’t say anything and I kept my ears open.
After drinks were all empty, we all made our way out into the parking lot, splitting off into different directions. Shelly got into her car. Tina and I walked towards my van to retrieve her bag and Nate and Amber had stopped in the middle of the lane to chat. It looked like a Minnesota goodbye.
“So, where’s your hotel at?” I heard Amber ask.
As Tina popped open my back hatch, I spun around and stalked up to Nate and Amber. The last thing I wanted was to come across as some suspicious, jealous ogre. My heart was pounding. My nerves on end. I wasn’t able to ignore that question.
I put my hands up in a “hold on” gesture. “Tina’s sleeping at Amber’s, tonight, right?”
They visibly froze, taking too long to respond. Nate was first to jump in with a sting of nervous “Yeah yeah yeahs.”
“Um, I mean, I think so?,” Amber chimed in a bit late.
“OK,” I said. “Never mind.” I actually felt embarrassed. Shaking my head, I started back towards Tina and my van.
“What was that about?” She asked, closing the hatch.
“Nothing. Never mind,” I responded, but I felt panic and cognitive dissonance setting in.
Pulling her roller bag behind her, she gave me a one-armed hug and quick peck. “I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow after the wedding,” she said, making haste towards Nate’s car. I got in my van, set my GPS to get me back to Tina’s, which was now my only home and drove off, my mind tumbling all the circumstances of the day. Why would Nate sleep on the floor or sofa with the limited space at Amber’s if he had a hotel room? Why didn’t Tina want to put her bag in Amber’s car? Of course, it was obvious, but I was still giving everyone the benefit of the doubt. Could Tina, Nate and Amber all have lied to me? Maybe the hotel is for tomorrow, and I’m jumping to conclusions, I thought. Seemed unlikely.
I took my phone off the dashboard and called Tina as I drove, hands shaking.
She answered right away. I could hear the noise of the road over the phone as she and Nate cruised down whatever highway they were taking.
“Say, I don’t want to come off like a crazy person or some suspicious asshole,” I started hesitantly. I was very nervous about getting this wrong. “But are were you planning to spend the night in a hotel with Nate?”
“You aren’t being crazy,” she said, “but don’t worry. I’m spending the night at Amber’s. It’s all good.”
I wasn’t convinced. “Because if you were…” I considered my words carefully and I was aware that Nate was sitting right next to her, listening. “Because if you were, that’s something… That’s the sort of thing I’d want you to tell me about.”
“You aren’t crazy and I’m not staying in a hotel with Nate. We’re on our way to Amber’s.”
“Uh, OK. Just… something wasn’t adding up there,” I backed out of the situation. “Alright. Have a good night. I love you.”
“I love you too. See you tomorrow. Bye.”
I hung up. I reexamined everything I’d observed, seen and heard. Tina was on her way to Nate’s hotel. It was a premeditated lie and it was poorly executed by both Tina and Nate, but I agonized over the conclusion all the way back to Farmington.
Reflecting later, I felt that day was the most humiliating experience of my life. I’d been very publicly played for a fool, conspired against and made the butt of their cruel joke. I thought she loved me.
Maura’s car wasn’t parked outside and the apartment was empty when I got back and let myself in. I was disappointed. I had wanted to talk to Maura and see what she knew about Tina’s whereabouts.
I took several pills prescribed for anxiety and laid down in Tina’s lonely bed. I got a text from Tina at about 10:30. “I love you a LOT. See you tomorrow. Goodnight.”
I drifted off into troubled dreams as the hydroxyzine began to do it’s soothing work.