Sharla Ruben is 49; Joshua Ruben is 42; Dee Ottomas is 33
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Sharla's hand hovered over the keys of Joshua's computer.
She didn't need to do this, she told herself. She knew what she'd find. He'd never made any secret of it. After all, it wasn't like thousands of other men didn't indulge in the same thing. Women, too, if the truth be told.
Compared to a lot of things these days, a little light porn was a relatively innocent diversion.
Sharla was beginning to wonder if there was anything innocent about Joshua at all.
By the time she'd made up her mind, she was out of time. She needed to leave soon - something else she didn't want to do, but knew she had to.
She put the mail down on the desk, her excuse should Joshua notice that she'd been in his study. Funny, she'd never worried about excuses before. She was getting paranoid... and there was no reason, she told herself. Nothing had to change - unless she wanted it too.
Sharla closed the office door carefully and went to find her car keys.
"You're pregnant," Sharla greeted Dee.
"Yeah," said Dee. "Didn't Mum or Dad tell you?"
"I haven't really... "
"Wait, how long has it been since you spoke to our parents?"
"I've been busy... and... what is it with everyone having babies all of a sudden. You, Cory's wife, Sam... "
"Sharla, don't change the - "
"I'm getting a coffee."
"Fine..." Dee sighed. This was pretty much how every encounter with her elder sister went. Which made her all the more curious about why Sharla even wanted to see her at all.
"So, what did you want to talk about?" Dee asked, when Sharla came back.
Sharla looked up at her. "Did you sleep with Joshua?"
"Wow, that was straight to the point."
"Well, you asked why I wanted to see you. So, did you? Sleep with my husband, I mean?"
"He wasn't you husband then."
"But it happened?"
"You know it happened. I tried to tell you before but you didn't want to listen. Why the interest now?"
"I need to know something. When you and Joshua... when you were together... was it... well, was it consensual?"
"As consensual as it could be under the circumstances."
"What the hell is that supposed to mean?"
"I was a teenager, he was in his thirties. I don't know how valid 'consent' is when you factor that into it."
"But you agreed at the time?"
"Yes, I agreed at the time. He didn't rape me, if that's what you're asking."
Sharla cringed at Dee's choice of words.
"Hey, why are you asking this, anyway?" Dee asked.
"I... just... there was a rumor, that's all. Not about you," she quickly added. "But... a rumour..."
"You mean someone made an accusation...?"
"Someone like a patient, or - "
"I'm not going to go into the details!" Sharla snapped, looking away.
"Hey are you ok?" Dee asked. "I mean, this is pretty heavy stuff you're talking about. If you need - "
"Of course I'm ok!" It's just a stupid rumor, it'll blow over as soon as they find something else to talk about."
Sharla had always considered herself to be a reasonably good actor. After all, she'd played the happy wife to Cory for years and no one had really suspected the truth. She figured that fooling Joshua would be easy.
She was wrong.
"What's going on," he asked.
"Oh... nothing," Sharla said. She wasn't ready for this conversation yet.
"No, something's up," he said. "You're quiet. Somethings wrong."
"I... just... I was talking to Dee today." She swallowed hard. Once she started this, there was no turning back. "You slept with her, didn't you?"
"Given the way you're asking that, I think you know the answer. But, for the record, it was well before we we married."
" 'well before we were married...'. Shit, Joshua, she was barely eighteen when we married. How the hell old was she when you did it?"
"She was sixteen, it was legal."
"Was it legal with Melissa?"
He put his drink down and just stared at her. "What are you talking about?"
You know what I'm talking about. She tried to tell me months ago, but I didn't believe her. And Cory... at least Cory listened to her, I'll give him that... "
"Let me get this right. We're talking about your drunk ex-husband who only just got out of rehab again, and a teenage girl who just spent three months sleeping on the street and doing god-only-knows-what else... and you're going to believe them, over me?"
"Now, that's the funny part," she said. "I didn't believe them at all. I only really believed it when you tried to hide the evidence."
"I don't know what you mean."
"Don't take me for a fool, Joshua. I know why you had Melissa's bedroom repainted in such a hurry. But it doesn't matter anyway," she bluffed. "I took photos of the door."
"All that proves is that she put the chair behind it to wedge it shut, nothing more. Teenagers like their privacy, you know that."
The look of smug satisfaction was too much for Sharla. "You assaulted my daughter, in my own home - "
She raised hand to slap him, but he grabbed her wrist.
"Your home? Let me remind you, you were nothing when I found you. You were dirt, just like your sister and just like your daughter."
Sharla bit her lip to stop herself crying out as he twisted her arm roughly behind her back. He pushed her towards the sofa, then shoved her down on it.
"That's why you'll never tell anyone about this. I know you, Sharla, you alway play to win. And you're so close to winning everything you ever wanted. Just a few more weeks, and I'll be Chief of Staff - think of the prestige. Think of the money. You won't give that up, not for anyone. Melissa's gone, you gain nothing by by stirring things up, think about that. And think about what you'd lose."
He leaned down closer to her face. "Now, I'm going to go out, and when I come back, it'll be like this conversation never happened. Do you understand?"
She nodded dumbly.
He put a hand under her chin, tilted up her head. She closed her eyes tightly as he kissed her lips.
"Good. Now, you sleep well, darling. I'll see you in the morning."
She sat, motionless, until she heard his car go.
Even then, she didn't move for a long time, just to be sure.
When she finally stood up, her limbs hurt from being still for so long. She made her way slowly up the stairs. By the time she reached the top, she'd made her decision.
She'd do it his way. In the morning, it'd be like nothing ever happened.
Joshua had been right about one thing.
Sharla always played to win.
Gameplay notes to come...