The Lies We Tell
by Thadd Presley
It was the best company party in the history of PhyllisCorps; possibly the best party of any computer company in the last decade, on par with the likes of Microsoft and Google. The richest of the tech world came to celebrate with the geniuses in our ranks. It was the annual Employee Appreciation Party and it was bigger than it had ever been. We’d done our jobs to the best of our ability and the company was letting us blow off some steam and some money. We had finally put PhyllisCorps on the map and the world had begun to take notice. We were acknowledging profits we’d never knew existed.
The company was doing so well, that they flew us from Phoenix to Knoxville and rented luxury cars for us to explore the city. The entire weekend was paid for and we deserved it.
Words can’t express how wonderful the weekend turned out and all the amazing places Knoxville had to visit. It was so well planned that we all felt like celebrities.
As I drove up the mountain, toward North Carolina, I couldn’t believe the scenery. I had seen pictures of our chalets and the cabins were going to be amazing. We’d heard rumors about the party that was going to take place, but as I caught my first glimpses of Gatlinburg and The Smokey Mountains I couldn’t believe my eyes. The unbelievable beauty of Tennessee took my breath even as I was on the plane, but I caught a second wind of unexpected amazement on the road. There’s something about the air here, I thought — I could breathe better, see farther, even my skin felt softer — but it was much more than that; the view, the altitude, and even the local folks were great.
I stopped at an overlook and spending 20 minutes talking to other travelers as they stood and wondered at the spectacular beauty of the land before us. It took fifteen minutes more of standing alone just breathing the sweet fragrant air before I could get back in the car and drive away. As I looked toward the horizon and watched the millions and millions of trees sway in the breeze, I wondered why I ever lived in the desert. Why didn’t I move here permanently? The world was mesmerizing from that point of view; even to a logically-thinking computer-geek like myself, intelligent design made more sense from Tennessee and I realized how hostile and ugly the desert happened to be.
I told my wife, Adrian, when we got back into the car that we were coming back as soon as we could. She nodded and mumbled something about the cabin in Gatlinburg and how close it was to Harrah’s Casino.
I didn’t bother to tell her that this place was too serene for gambling, that gambling was for people in the desert where there was nothing else to do, that gambling away money in a place like this would be idiotic when there was so many things to see and so much here that money couldn’t buy.
It dawned on me, as I made my way up and through the switchback curves, that my wife didn’t understand this place at all and I would be moving back alone. There was just no way to open her eyes. She had grown accustomed to brown and dead, when I was just learning about flowing water and green mountains filled with life.
We finally arrived and the mansion sat atop a peak right in the middle of the Blue Ridge Mountains. A huge banner in the yard read, “Congrats on a A Great Year.” I could see the feeling of optimism on the faces of everyone standing out front.
* * * * *
When the announcement was first made, I didn’t want to go to Tennessee. I had some work on a freelance job I’d been working nights trying to finish. I thought Adrian would enjoy a vacation instead of going to another stuffy company party. But, after talking to her about it, she talked me into going. And for once, she was right.
If we would have stayed home, I would have never met the most incredible woman. She was a pleasure to talk with, to walk with, and to look at; her ways invaded my life and made me a believer in love at first sight.
I miss her very much and often wonder why I didn’t leave with her that night. I became attached to her quickly and have thought of her everyday since the night of the party.
My wife wakes me at night and swears I say her name in my sleep. She says it bothers her and claims I was unfaithful. But, her accusation is simply not true. I never even kissed Helen or held her hand. But, I didn’t have to kiss her to fall in love with her. She emitted love like the sun does light.
She was pure.
Two nights ago, my wife woke me for the umpteenth time, and I did something I rarely do: I got angry. She began accusing me of having an affair. She screamed at me, saying that my work had suffered, our relationship was ending, and it was all because of Helen and that party. I was fully awake by the time she accused me of loving her, and part of what she said was true. My work was suffering and our relationship was ending, but it wasn’t because of Helen. Adrian blamed my actions for everything happening to us, but the truth wasn’t as simple as that. My wife was ruining our relationship by holding onto feelings she had over a dead woman, and all because I occasionally spoke her name in my sleep.
So, I did what any reasonable man would do when faced with a no-win situation. I got out of bed and walked to the bedroom door. It was my intention to walk away and let her go back to sleep. I would finish the night in the spare bedroom so I would not disturb her sleep.
“Who did she think she was anyway?” She asked as I opened the bedroom door. Lately her voice had scraped my very soul raw and I didn’t know how much more I could take before walking out forever. Her voice used to make me smile and feel good, but lately it had become very irritating and every word had me imagining the freedom in signing divorce papers. But I knew a divorce was never going to happen. I loved her and we were just having a rough patch. I loved her too much to simply leave her alone to the world. If I didn’t love her, I would have never came home from Tennessee.
I suppose she had a reason to be upset at me because I went to Helen’s funeral when I told her I wasn’t going. But, there was just no way I could not go. She was the most amazing woman I’d ever met and she deserved to be mourned by everyone who had known her.
I tried to tell myself that my mourning had everything to do with respect and nothing to do with infatuation, but that was a lie. I went to the funeral because I wished that I would have gotten the chance to love Helen and really get to know her. I would have stayed in Tennessee and gotten a divorce if I’d known her life was going to be so short.
“I know you had more to do with her than your telling me,” Adrian yelled. “I know you better than you think.”
I was standing in the hallway, turning the corner toward the stairs when she said it. I’d started toward the kitchen to start coffee and it hit me that she was right. I knew that she had to know how I felt toward her. A wife knows her husband better than he knows himself.
Sleep was finished for the night, I knew that as well.
“Admit it,” she screamed from directly behind me, startling me, her voice grating every nerve in my body. I could feel the hate shooting out from her body into mine and it made me go sour inside.
I wanted to scream back at her. I wanted to tell her that she was just being mean. But what could I really say to make her understand the way I felt? I’d tried to come up with something to say to her until everything sounded empty even to myself. So I took a breath and I gave her back the hate she was giving me.
“For God’s sake, can you shut the fuck up?”
She watched me as I seethed and I saw that she’d been wanting me to get mad. She wanted this the whole time. She wanted to fight. I didn’t understand why, but I had finally given her what she wanted. “No I can’t. Not when you won’t tell me the truth.”
“I am telling you the…”
“I’ll never shut up. I’ll never forgive you.” Her eyes were full of tears now and it shocked me. “How can we begin to make this better when you won’t help me.”
“I don’t know what you want me to say.”
“Just tell me what you two did. Tell me why you’re so smitten by her. What does she have that I don’t?”
“If you don’t tell me that you two had something going on, even long distance, I’ll go insane. Do you know that?”
So, I took a chance. I lied to her. I figured if the truth wasn’t going to get us through this than maybe a lie is exactly what we needed.
“OK. We did. I mean, I did. Who cares now anyway?” Tears were in my eyes, hot tears that burned with the knowledge of time lost of tarnishing her memory. “She’s dead now and I’m stuck with you…” I was going to say more, but she slapped me.
She had never slapped me. In twenty years, we’d never touched each other in anger. “I knew you did. You didn’t even have to tell me. I knew it all along.”
“You don’t know anything.”
“I knew that, damn you. I knew it and you know I knew it. Finally, you have spoken the truth about that whore.”
But it wasn’t the truth and I regretted saying it. It would bother me for my entire life. If Helen haunted me now, I could only imagine what dreams might come of the lie.
In my frustration, my words had ruined Helen’s reputation. There was no going back now, no winning and no way out.
Adrian was in front of me now. I was now following her as she leading me toward the kitchen. She was in control. Her sobs were louder than they should have been, I knew how she cried . It infuriated me to know that I would never be able to take those words back and she would use them against me until the day I died. She would call Helen names and I’d have to hold my tongue because I was the one who damned her. I hated myself already for lying.
I regretted the entire day, the company party, my marriage — I regretted my entire life –and I’d only been awake for eighteen minutes.
Adrian was going toward the child-proofed drawer, not that we had ever had children; she was going for the pistol hidden in the back of the drawer.
I never thought to stop her
— didn’t want to stop her –
She was out of control and I wanted nothing more than to just let her go; let her kill me if she wanted to.
Then at that moment, I thought she might kill herself and I didn’t care if she did. I’d kill myself afterward, if she didn’t have the decency to shoot me first.
I started to open my mouth, to tell her that I was ready to die, but it was at this moment she brought the pistol out of the drawer and I was suddenly afraid.
“I know more than you think, you bastard. I knew the two of you had something going on and I know you were planning to move to Tennessee so you two could be closer. I knew you were going to leave me.” Tears rolled down her face and I suddenly had a vision of how crazy this could get.
“Now, don’t do anything you’ll regret. You don’t know what you’re talking about…”
She smiled. “I won’t regret shooting you. I killed your sweetheart, didn’t I? I don’t regret that.”
The short silence that followed brought what she’d said into blinding clarity.
“That’s right,” she taunted. “I caused her brakes to go out and that’s why she crashed.”
“Why would you say that? She had an accident.”
“No, no. She had no brakes, that’s true, but it wasn’t an accident.”
I didn’t believe what Adrian was saying. I knew there was no way she could have done it. She didn’t know anything about cars. She was just using Helen’s accident to hurt me. She would say anything at this point to hurt me, but that didn’t stop me from hated her for saying it. “You’re a hateful bitch you know that?”
“Maybe, but I’m not lying.” She smiled. “You stopped loving me the moment you met her.” Her tears had stopped. A smile still showed on her lips. “I saw it in your eyes that first night you saw her. I heard it in your voice when you spoke about her. A woman knows these things.”
I couldn’t speak.
“That’s right. I knew it and I put a stop to it.”
“Stop saying that. You couldn’t have…”
The smile grew wider and it made her look ten years younger. “I killed her.” The gun came up. “And now I’m going to kill you.” Her lips were red and full of blood, her entire face was flush with anger. “You hit me and chased me and I had to kill you…” The gun pointed at my chest.
“No, Adrian, you don’t understand…”
“Stop saying that.” She was raising her voice. She would be screaming soon. “Never say that to me again. You’re the one who doesn’ t understand. You’re the one who doesn’t know anything.” She lowered the gun an inch. “But, I’m not going to kill you before I explain it to you. It wouldn’t be right to let you die not knowing how much I love you.” The gun jerked toward the living room. “Go sit down.” Another jerk of the gun. “Go sit in your favorite chair and I’ll tell you everything.” She was smiling still, but I could see the hurt in her face. “You’ll want to hear this. You might even be proud of me for taking an interest in your work.”
“Adrian, you…” I stopped myself. I almost said “you don’t understand” again. “We didn’t do anything.”
“I will fucking shoot you in the chest when this is over. But, you will hear me out first. You’re the one who’s a liar and doesn’t understand what love is.”
“Don’t understand what? What do you want me to understand?”
“I want you to know how I killed Helen and how you helped me do it. Why I killed her isn’t the point anymore because you know why.”
I sat down slowly, no longer thinking of myself but what Adrian had in her mind and why she thought she killed Helen.
“It was Barnaby Jack who gave me the idea.” Adrian began. “When we were in Las Vegas and you sent me to record his conference. Remember?”
I thought of trying again to tell Adrian I lied, that Susan and I never did anything. But, the name Barnaby Jack brought me back. It was three months after the company party. I knew then that she had done something and I knew how she’d done it.
Our eyes connected for the first time in over two years. “Yes,” Adrian said. “you see now don’t you?”
I nodded my head, although I didn’t know exactly.
“Tell me, so I know you know.”
* * * * *
It was the Spring after the employee party. I was sent to cover Barnaby Jack’s Hacker convention, but I drank too much and couldn’t go. I wanted to meet the man and many of the other guests, but I would have puked on them. So, I gave Adrian my pass and sent her to record his talk.
At the conference, he detailed and performed how to hack a car with a cell phone. With a simple code anyone could disable the cars alarm system, jack with the fuel/oxygen ratio, and many other things. With a couple numbers anyone could disable the brakes of a luxury car. It was a simple, just the facts, demonstration of a wireless hack, something anyone with cell phone abilities could do. Adrian had learned more than she needed to know from it.
It was the next year, at the Employee Party, that Susan left early and had an accident on her way home. It was written up as an accident, no one thought otherwise. But, I now knew she was murdered by my wife.
“So, now what?” I asked. “You going to kill me? You have to, you know that right? If you don’t kill me, I’ll turn you in.”
Then she started crying. “I did it because I love you. I didn’t want you to leave me.”
“I wasn’t going to leave you. You should have trusted me.”
“Trusted you,” she screamed, asked, and accused at the same time.
The pistol came up and I had only two regrets. I wished that I hadn’t come back from Tennessee to this barren wasteland called Phoenix, and I wished I hadn’t lied and tarnished Helen’s good name.