Spring 2011 — THE POTOMAC

The Safety Wife
  Nina Badzin

Liza loved Evan on the morning of their fourteenth wedding anniversary. She loved him when he leaned over with his bad breath to say good morning. And despite her irrational fear of water, she wasn't mad when he begged her to spend the afternoon on the lake.

"Andrew insists you come, too. Susannah hates being the only wife."

"Fine," Liza said. "Because I love you." And she did. But she liked his boss, Andrew Johnson. She liked Andrew more than she detested the company boat.

When they walked across the dock, Liza stood straighter, readying herself for Andrew's approval. Whenever he'd greeted her at other business events, he always whispered a compliment in her ear. You look wonderful, he'd say. That color suits you. Or, have you been working out? Then he'd let his hand linger on her arm, or if they were sitting, her thigh. During the previous year's Christmas party he'd smoothed out the back of her hair, making her feel like one of his children or his dog.

"Gorgeous day," Andrew said, holding out his arm to help Evan step over from the dock. Liza let Andrew help her across next, feeling the pressure of his hand on her arm long after she was securely on board. Stop it, she told herself, knowing she was pathetic for clinging to his attention, for pretending the flashes of intimacy amounted to anything more than an overly friendly nod.

"You okay?" Susannah Johnson asked her moments later. Liza nodded then sat down on one of the cushioned seats with her head in her hands.

"It'll be smoother once we're away from the shore," Andrew said.

Evan shook his head. "Motion sickness isn't exactly Liza's problem."

"What, then?" Susannah asked.

"A drowning in a past life or something," Evan said and smiled. "We don't know."

Andrew told her to keep breathing the fresh air and suggested that Evan help Susannah set up the drinks and food on the lower level where the boat's movement would be worse for Liza--motion sickness issues or not.

"Not too bad is it?" Andrew asked once they were further away from the shore. "The boat?" she asked.

"The water, really. You once told me you loathed the lake."

She grinned. "Loathe is a little strong. I doubt I said loathe."

"But you did. I remember. I remember the whole conversation."

"Why?" She regretted asking him that immediately, knowing his answer shouldn't matter, not when the real question was why—when she loved her husband—Andrew Johnson's opinion held any significance for her in the first place. She should find Evan and Susannah, she told herself. She should be a good guest and help.

"I remember thinking that I'd better get you more comfortable out here," he said.

"Evan isn't such a water person either," she said. "He doesn't mind that I'm not into boats."

"But I'm out here all the time. Could never give it up."

"Good thing Susannah likes it too, then."

"You don't get it."

"Get what?"

"You're my safety wife. Boats are part of the deal."

"Your safety what?" She turned her head towards the small opening to the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs.

"They'll be awhile," Andrew said, standing confidently at the wheel. "Susannah's doing fondue for dessert."

"Fondue," she repeated. She must have misheard him. He couldn't have said safety wife.

"She probably has Evan cutting a pineapple."

"He's terrible with knives." Liza smiled, relieved for the change of topic.

"So what do you think?" Andrew asked.

"About pineapples?"

"About what I said. About you being my safety wife?"

She stared back at him, too stunned to speak.

"Don't you have one?" he asked.

"A safety wife?"

"A what if plan? If things don't work out with Evan . . . an accident or a heart attack. He'd never leave you."

"You never know."

"Who could leave you?"

She stood up for the first time since they left the dock. "You're serious."

"You're my plan B. I've known for years."

"Based on what?"

"A feeling. I think we'd do well together."

A boat named the Sea Wanderer passed near them. Andrew and the other driver exchanged a wave.

"We'd do well?" she asked.

"More than well, Liza. We'd be happy. I'd take care of your kids. I'd take care of everything. But only if something happens to Susannah."

"So this isn't about her? You're not getting divorced?

"Never. Who's talking about divorce?"

She heard Evan and Susannah walking up the stairs.

"All right," Liza said, whispering. "I'll do it. I'll be your what—if wife."

"Who's ready for cocktails?" Susannah asked in the sing—song tone Liza knew Evan couldn't stand.

Liza took a martini in one hand and Evan's arm in the other.

"You seem more comfortable," Evan said.

"We had a good talk," Andrew said. "I told her there's no logical reason to be afraid."

"I've been telling her that for fourteen years."

"Andrew's a convincing one," Susannah said. "Isn't he?"

Liza nodded.

"And happy anniversary," Susannah said. "I should've mentioned it right away."

Liza kissed Evan on the cheek. "I missed you," she said, her lips close to his ear. And she meant it. She loved her husband. And she was pretty sure she'd love him until he wasn't around to love anymore.


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