The phone rang over and over and over. No answer. Aubrey’s face twisted into a grimace. Where the hell was her damn husband? She let his outgoing voicemail play but did not intend to leave a message. What did she need to leave a message for? Caller I.D. had been invented years ago. He knew who was calling him. His wife of three years. Supposedly, the love of his life. Aubrey stormed out of their bedroom and headed back to the den that also served as their office. She attempted to calm herself down. There had to be an explanation, she rationalized with herself. The possibly of him being hurt came to mind and hit her heart. Sit down and breathe, she told herself. Her mind was spinning. Numerous scenarios raced through her thoughts. It was too early for such drama. After twenty minutes and ten unanswered phone calls to Salim, Aubrey convinced herself that her husband was okay and he had somehow misplaced his phone. He would be home soon and explain the entire situation to her. A distraction was necessary. The clock read close to eleven. Maybe a good movie was on Lifetime. Aubrey shook her head. It would be just her luck it would be a movie about an unfaithful man playing. Or maybe an unexplained disappearance that was found to be a murder. There were ungraded test papers that needed to be attended to, but she knew her focus wasn’t there. A long, heavy sigh escaped her full lips. How did her world get flipped upside down in a matter of minutes? Aubrey opened her eyes and realized she had been on her couch doing some type of crazed breathing exercise. No. She was not going to lose her mind over an unanswered phone call. Well, it had actually been about fifteen unanswered outgoing calls to her husband. Finally, her concern converted into anger. Oh, Salim was going to get an earful when he returned home. That was it. Aubrey stood from the edge of the couch and headed back to their bedroom. Her mind had been made up. She was going to shower, get dressed, and do something. She just hadn’t decided what exactly that was going to be.
The water was steaming hot. At first, it stung. Just as the thought of Salim committing adultery had. The sound of the water and the thick mist it created calmed her shaken nerves. Aubrey washed herself until her fingers and toes wrinkled up like raisins. She turned the water off and exited the tub. She wrapped herself in an oversized towel and entered her bedroom. And there he was. Salim was sitting on the edge of the bed they shared with his face in his palms. Aubrey hesitated. What was should she do now? Curse him out for not answering her calls and having her scared? Or ask him what the other woman’s name was? No. Neither was the correct answer. She could tell by the slump in his shoulders that something was not right. Aubrey approached her husband slowly and called his name.
He looked up. He didn’t know what pained him more; the situation he had just endured or the look on his wife’s face. Salim watched silently as Aubrey walked towards him with tears welling in her eyes. He never intended to worry his love. He had felt his phone vibrate every time she had called, and it took every ounce of his being not to answer. The fact of the matter was he had kept a secret from Aubrey since they had begun dating. Well, she never asked so he never told. Technically, did that classify as a secret, let alone a lie? All of that did not matter. The woman that he adored was standing in front of him smelling of scented soaps covered in a towel. If he didn’t have so much on his mind he would have taken that beautiful woman right then and there. The thoughts of making love to his wife were interrupted by Aubrey’s soft voice. She was standing right in front of him with a genuine look of confusion.
Honestly, Aubrey was lost. How was she supposed to feel when her husband, who had just been missing in action thirty minutes ago, was in front of her with a demeanor of hurt and fatigue? She touched his cheek and looked him in his eyes. Answers were necessary. Right now. Salim didn’t move her soft hand. Truth be told, it was exactly what he needed. He placed his hand on hers and motioned for her to sit beside him. At that very moment her heart dropped. Aubrey’s emotions were on a wild rollercoaster and she desperately wanted that ride to end. Still wrapped in a towel, she sat beside her love.
“Baby, stop looking like that.”
Aubrey’s face jerked back as if she had been slapped. “What am I supposed to look like, Salim?”
He sighed. His wife was right. “I know you want to know where I’ve been.” He began to speak but he wouldn’t look her in her eyes. “I have a half-brother by my mother. She was young and she gave him up for adoption.” He stopped to keep his emotions under control. His mother had passed away six years ago from breast cancer. The wound had yet to heal completely. He took a deep breath. “I met him after Mama died. His name is Phillip.”
“Why didn’t you tell me about him?” Aubrey interrupted him. She was confused beyond measure, but she knew there was more. The way her husband’s shoulders slumped as if the world were sitting upon them was a giveaway.
“I didn’t know.” Salim bowed his head. “I didn’t know. Phil told me he was out of work and needed some help, so I let him stay with me. This was way before you and I met. It worked out for a few months. It was perfect. I finally had the brother I never knew I had.” Another heavy sigh. “Things started to come up missing. At first it was little things. Then the grill, the microwave…well the day the gold watch Mama gave me for my graduation came up missing, I knew what was up. Phil was strung out on heroin. We had a huge fight and I kicked him out. Told him I never wanted to see him again.”Aubrey sat in silence. She was trying to make sense of it all, but it was too much at once. The least that she understood was why Salim was upset. She could sort of wrap her mind around his reasoning for not telling her about his estranged half-brother. But what did Phil have to do with her husband not answering his phone this morning?