LAUREN ZUCKERMAN’S WIFE ALARM BELLS sounded and so, at 6:57 a.m. on January 20, she slid her husband’s phone across the bedside table to have a snoop. Eric had left it there on his way into the bathroom. He often dropped his phone on the bedside table, along with Lauren’s coffee, which he delivered to her every morning before he headed into the shower. If Lauren had to grade their marriage of fourteen years, she would give them low Bs and high Cs. They had a hectic life on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. They juggled their careers, their twin eleven-year-old daughters, the occasional date night in Tribeca or the West Village when Lauren got her act together to score a dinner reservation. Then factor in Eric’s work travel, Lauren’s less frequent work travel, and the nonstop demands from the girls’ school as if none of the other obligations in their life existed. Sometimes the only way Lauren and Eric connected was a functional fuck before they fell asleep. But the daily wake-up coffee from Eric? That scored a solid A.
Lauren’s pulsed raced as she cupped Eric’s phone in her hand. But she didn’t have time to lose. He wasn’t a marathon shower guy. She only had three to four minutes to see if there was any validity to her hunch that her husband was up to no good.
Maybe Lauren was being paranoid. But it was hard to forget five years ago, right after her mom died of ovarian cancer, when Eric had that affair. Lauren was a disaster during the entire time her mom was sick—six months from diagnosis to death—and she’d lost interest in sex. She squirmed away if Eric cupped her breasts as she undressed. She didn’t want him to spoon her in bed. When Eric got back from the annual Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas three months after they cremated her mom, he confessed that he’d had stupid, drunken conference sex.
Lauren considered demanding a divorce. Everyone thinks infidelity is their line in the sand until it happens to them. But they went to couples counseling and took up hiking and did the work to save their relationship. She told herself it was worth saving. Lauren loved her family of four. She didn’t want to throw it away because Eric messed up once, and neither did he.
But every now and then the bells went off.
Last night, Eric went out drinking with other lawyers from his investment firm. He’d gotten in after midnight. Usually when Eric came home high on wine, he prodded her awake with his erection. But all she remembered from her melatonin-induced coma was the chill of him tugging away more than his share of the comforter.
It was a relief not to have to stir awake for sex. Lauren had a big freelance deadline this week. To add to her stress, she’d volunteered until 9:00 p.m. on the silent auction committee for the girls’ new middle school. But the fact that Eric wasn’t horny last night was odd. Lauren’s best friends, Sophie and Madeline, didn’t believe that Eric Turner—geeky lawyer and middle-aged dad—had developed an insatiable libido over the past few years. But he had. Lauren told herself it was better than the married moms she gossiped with on playground benches who confessed to months-long dry spells. Sometimes the sex with Eric was good, especially if she was ovulating and her body craved it. Other times Lauren went through the motions in the same way she tackled a sink of dishes or filled out those endless back-to-school forms.
Lauren rarely turned Eric down. If she did, she worried he’d look elsewhere. His company, Equity Investors, had recently hired a few young, female data analysts—slim, stylish women straight out of business school. They were librarian-hot, totally Eric’s type. Lauren used to be slim, stylish, and librarian-hot, but try being pregnant with twins. Try seeing what forty does to your metabolism. Lauren had turned forty last summer. Not over the hill, but she could no longer eat cheese fries with reckless abandon.
The other thing that triggered Lauren’s Wife Alarm Bells was a random text from Eric at 9:47 p.m. She’d just gotten home from the school auction, paid the sitter, and checked to make sure the girls were asleep. She was unclipping the leash from their goldendoodle when her phone chirped with a text from her husband.
That’s all he wrote.
Why would a husband text hey to his wife while he’s drinking with colleagues? That’s what a frat bro texts to a girl he’s lining up for a booty call. Lauren waited a minute and then texted him back.
Lauren: What’s up with hey?
Eric didn’t respond, so Lauren called him. No answer. That wasn’t a surprise. Eric rarely picked up her calls. When Cady was nine and broke her arm on the monkey bars, Lauren couldn’t get through to Eric until their daughter was already casted and home from the emergency room. If Lauren were generous, she’d say that Eric ignored her texts and calls because he had the uniquely male ability to hyper-focus on work. After another minute, Lauren tapped open Life360 and located Eric. He seemed to be at a bar in midtown, so she turned her phone to silent, swallowed 3 mg of melatonin, and brushed her teeth.
Lauren took another sip of coffee, wiggled her toes under the sheets, and tapped in Eric’s password. It was comically easy—the month and year he graduated from Columbia Law. As her finger hovered over his text app, she felt a stab of guilt. Maybe she shouldn’t check. It had been five years since that conference. Then again, what’s the worst that could happen if she dug around? At the least, she could get a heads-up if her mother-in-law had invited them to Brookline for Presidents’ Day weekend. Or she could see if Eric had a work trip he’d forgotten to mention. It wouldn’t be the first time.
Feeling a fresh surge of annoyance at her husband, Lauren twisted her wavy brown hair into a loose knot and opened his texts. His last message was a receipt from Uber at 12:14 a.m. Fine. Innocent. She glanced at the previous text.
“Oh my god!” Lauren gasped.
Don’t look. She shook her head rapidly from side to side. Don’t read more. You don’t want to know.
But she’d seen enough to know that she had to keep reading.
646-555-7613: Oh, Eric! Our favorite client.
Eric: Does Molly have time tonight? Around 10:30?
646-555-7613: Yes! Is 11pm okay? Same as last week?
646-555-7613: We look forward to seeing you again. We’ve moved to a new suite. We’re still at the same address but now on the 3rd floor.
As Lauren heard Eric’s shower shut off, the coffee bounced in her gut. Where the fuck was her husband a “favorite client”? And who was Molly?
The bathroom faucet turned on. Lauren heard the tap of Eric’s razor on the edge of the sink. Her fingers were shaking so hard it took three attempts, but she finally copied and pasted last night’s address into a search bar. Nothing. Next she googled the 646 phone number.
We offer discreet sexual services to discerning male clientele.
Lauren wanted to collapse into her pillow in tears. Eric? Hon? Did you really go to some woman named Molly and pay for sexual services? Her throat tightened. There was no denying that her husband really did this, that in this exact moment on her bed she was hovering between a before and an after.
Before Lauren could descend into nine million circles of hell, she needed to get proof. She quickly took a screen grab of the site and the texts and sent them from Eric’s phone to hers. Lauren had the tech prowess to know that despite common assumptions it would be hard to fully hide that she’d been on Eric’s phone. But she didn’t care at this point.
She also wanted to loop in Sophie and Madeline, get her friends on board for her impending major fucking meltdown. Except that her phone was docked in the kitchen where Cady and Amelia were likely hunched over bowls of Honey Nut Cheerios. If Lauren ventured out there she’d get snared in their morning BS and she couldn’t deal right now.
Eric had Sophie and Madeline as contacts in his phone. Back when Sophie was married to Joshua and Madeline was married to Colin, the six of them hung out as couple friends. Lauren and Eric were the last marriage standing. Not for long.
Lauren’s teeth chattered as she wrote a group text to Sophie and Madeline.
Eric: It’s Lauren not Eric. Check out these screenshots. THIS is what I just discovered on Eric’s phone. Turns out what happened in Vegas didn’t stay in Vegas. Guys, I think my marriage is over. Don’t write back to me here.
As soon as she sent the text and the screenshots, Lauren deleted her tracks from Eric’s phone as best she could. Then she ran to the bathroom, shoved past her naked husband, and vomited her coffee into the toilet.