We said we'd get a redbone coonhound puppy and name her Valentine. We put all our hopes on her, as if she could save us.
We'd been living together nearly two years, and it had been two months since I found out about the girl with the teeny-tiny waist. Her name was Heather, pretty and natural like the plant, and she was my "friend" from work. Apparently there was that fiery attraction you see on bad TV shows when I introduced them at the holiday party. She'd slipped him her number after drinking got heavy, they texted, met several times and did things I'll always regret asking the specifics of.
It was February. Valentine was new and red and unscathed, like our hearts once. We still wanted to believe.
From the moment we brought Valentine home, the dynamic changed, as it does when a third person enters a room. We sniffed in her puppy scent and laughed together like children. Jay and I became a team, parents even. I'd watch Jay rub his big head against her tiny forehead where her extra skin rippled. A new language developed. We called her ears velveteen fabric samples, her eyes Werther's Originals Candies, her paws red velvet cupcakes. She loved us the way we needed her to, without condition, limit, or time-reference.
We took her for walks and bragged about her to strangers and friends. She had her quadrant of the apartment with a bed and toys, but the three of us kept no boundaries. Every night after work we fell all over each other on the braided area rug in front of the sofa, kissing and playing and giggling. Her ears would dangle into her heart-shaped ceramic water bowl. Jay and I shared her entirely, fell so hard for her we felt the momentum of her moving us forward.
Jay and I started having sex again, and it felt glorious, even better than before teeny-tiny waist girl. My throat dried when I thought of how our relationship would irrevocably be defined in terms of before and after her.
One night, with Valentine curled between us like a soft red C, Jay asked if I'd forgiven him, said he'd never forgive himself, but if I'd forgiven him, then he wanted to marry me and have kids, that we were perfect caring for an active puppy and why not a family? I said I had. We had sex. I tried to do it like a reckless whore, pretending that my waist was skinny and my name was pretty. I said things that I imagined she might have said, things I thought Jay might have wanted to hear, things that would have been enough to make him throw me away in an instant. I couldn't tell for certain if either of us enjoyed it.
The next morning, completely naked before the full-length mirror, I looked at my waist which would never be Heather's. I touched myself in that new way people touch at the beginning of things—the way I thought he probably touched her. With soft fingertips, I caressed the curve of my hip and dragged my fingers up my sides and over my breasts, across my shoulders and neck and then down and everywhere. I saw him lying to me and remembered his acting skills. I remembered when I found out and how the entire universe morphed, how I couldn't recognize Jay or myself now that we were cheater and cheated-on. I finished myself imagining a long-time friend touching me, a guy who hadn't had the opportunity to crush me in that worst of ways. I saw his hands on me, felt his lips, even said his name out loud. It was all I could think of to stop seeing Jay touching Heather, and it worked. Afterwards, I felt the deepest of sorrows, understanding how easy it was to cheat.
I got dressed and took Valentine for a walk, yanked her more than usual. I told Jay that night that I just couldn't. He cried and started to ask about Valentine, but stopped himself, seeming vaguely redeemed by the fact that he would sacrifice her for his sins.
For a few days after Jay left, Valentine did the whimpering thing that I'd only heard on Lady on the Tramp. I gave her extra treats, stroked her velveteen fabric samples, told her we'd be ok, but I knew everything else would be after Jay.