The Cheater

I’ve heard all of Jason’s excuses before. If I was asked, I’d be able to list them off one by one. Tessa always comes around to my place to tell me first. In fact, it’s happened so often of late that I’ve come to recognise the distinctive sound of her knock on my front door: when she’s in a good mood, it’s a fast and chirpy sound, but whenever Jason hits her with bad news it becomes slow and deliberate.

She enters the house with her shoulders low, arms hanging like weights at her sides, morose and lifeless. When she speaks, her voice adopts an empty, broken tone.

Aware that Tessa will speak in her own time, I make her a strong cup of tea and sit opposite her, paying as little attention to the tears that soak her face as I can. Those tears are her responsibility; she’s the only one who will be able to make them stop. When I offer advice, I’m well aware that it won’t be followed, but it’s my obligation to give it anyway.

Tear drops land in her drink and, once she’s stopped whimpering to herself, she takes a deep breath and looks up at me.

“Jason cheated on me,” she whispers, and I have to bite my tongue to prevent myself from adding ‘again’. She cries harder after she speaks those words, as though the fact that Jason has slept with someone else is a new revelation.

I pat her on the back. It’s an attempt to knock some sense into her as much as it is to soothe her. No marriage is sacred enough to withstand as much heartbreak as she’s been through. I tell her Jason’s not worth her time, but I know she’ll go back to him straight away. He’ll apologise for sleeping with another woman and promise never to cheat again; they both know it’s a lie, but Tessa always surrenders herself to the fantasy anyway.

Several months can go by between her pitiful visits. How she puts up with this mistreatment over and over again is beyond me: the world is full of decent men who are worthy of her gentle affection, and yet she clings onto Jason because she is used to him. As painful as her relationship is, Tessa clearly finds enormous security in the consistency it provides.

I wonder how weak she has to feel after she leaves me. Her inability to escape is nobody’s fault but her own, and Tessa is aware of that. I cannot persuade her any more than I have already tried to; it’s tiring work and I’m fed up with her crying. Years have passed since Jason first began to stray, but Tessa has stayed the same: unquestioning and undemanding.

Why she doesn’t do something to better her life is beyond me. As her only friend who remains, I cannot make any ultimatums lest I leave her to suffer on her own. I am the last piece of sanity she has, and until she has the strength to leave Jason, that is what she needs.

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