The sun hit her eyes, blinding her for a moment as she stepped out of her 2001 grey Honda Civic, and she wondered how she could have possibly let it come this far. She knew what people hid within them. She knew most people lied to some degree. This search she was on, this investigation to expose- it was fruitless.
The Freeman Hotel stood solid and sad against the backdrop of the Gardiner Expressway. Its concrete facade was a mess of grey and brown, the windows foggy and rusted at the frame. It was six stories of desperation and depression and Judy knew that her ex-boyfriend was inside with a woman who wasn’t his girlfriend.
Why did she care? Why did she persist? Why had she appointed herself Faith’s guardian?
“Jude, I think he’s cheating,” she had blurted teary and breathless over the phone last week. Faith was often crying and for reasons that Judy found odd- like always losing socks in the dryer or not finding a parking spot.
“Slow down,” she had said. “What happened?” But Judy already knew it was most likely true. Rudy, God love him, was an idiot. He turned his head at the slightest feminine movement and had no business being in a committed relationship. She should know.
Faith took a deep breath and continued, “When he answered his phone this morning…the voice on the other end…it was definitely a woman’s. I was sitting right beside him. And then…he blushed. He blushed, Jude!”
Judy rolled her eyes. Rudy was always blushing. “OK, calm down. I’m sure there’s an…”
Faith was sobbing. She was actually upset. “I…need…to know.”
The phone was hot against Judy’s cheek. “Alright, Faith,” she said. “Let’s find out.”
That had been last week, but the insinuation of Faith into Judy’s life had begun six months previously.
Jesus. Six months. Had it really only been that long?
Judy had been happily burning a box filled with Rudy’s things (an Archies comic book, three losing scratch lottery tickets, four pairs of white tube socks- sullied and holed, a deck of Uno cards and a hasty “I love you” note scrawled onto a sticky note he had left for her on the fridge two months before). The comic told you all you needed to know about his maturity level, the lottery tickets: his luck, the socks: his self-care regimen, the cards: his idea of a fun Friday night and the note: his brilliant solution to mending an argument about constantly looking at other women by saying three words neither of them had ever said to one another. On a sticky note. Stuck to the fridge.
Judy had been congratulating herself on clawing her way out of rock-bottom by dumping his sorry butt two months before with the tiny bonfire and a scotch-on-the-rocks when her phone rang with a number she didn’t recognize. Obviously, it was her slightly tipsy state that made her answer the call.
“Hello? This is Faith. Is this Judy?” asked a small, sweet and hopeful voice on the other end.
Judy was cautious. She knew that name. It was a waitress’ name. It was a ‘Rudy, please stop ogling that waitress’ name. “Um, yes…” she said finally.
“Oh thank God! I took a guess that you were ‘EX GF’ in Rudy’s phone. I hope it’s OK that I’m calling.”
Judy cringed. “Actually, I…”
“I’m just so upset, Judy. I don’t know what to do. Rudy is…he’s so…complicated!”
Judy snorted involuntarily.
“Are you OK?” Faith asked genuinely.
“Yes, it’s just…”
But her nerves got the better of her and she interrupted: “Anyway, Judy, you’re the only one I know who knows him, you know? And I just…I just…”
Judy was dumbfounded at what had transpired in the last sixty seconds. “But we’ve never…are you crying?”
“Can I come over?”
Judy rolled her eyes and took a long swig of scotch as the final strands of smoke left the small tin trash can. “Listen, Faith is it?”
“I’m not the best person to ask for advice on Rudy. We were only together for eight months and I only liked him for two of those so…”
Faith interrupted, hopeful again. “But you know him, right?”
“I suppose…” Judy trailed off as a car caught her eye outside. There was a woman parked out front of her house. On the phone. Crying. “Faith?”
“Are you outside my house right now?”
The woman in the car nodded. Judy rubbed her forehead and groaned. “Come on in,” she said in resignation. “The door’s unlocked.”
Faith turned out to be as sweet as her voice. She was timid and brave at the same time. She seemed to trust her intuition to a fault, to a point where it silenced the voice of reason- the voice with manners, boundaries and social graces. It turned out that Rudy was different with Faith than he’d been with Judy. Granted, it had only been two months, but from what Faith described Rudy sounded more assertive, confident maybe even a bit impatient. With Judy, he’d always acted like a child- always wanting and needing from her. It was exhausting and frankly, affirmed her choice to not have kids.
From what Judy gathered, Rudy liked Faith. There was no talk of other women. No wandering eyes. If anything, it sounded as though Faith was insecure.
“Listen, Faith this is highly unusual. I’m not super comfortable talking to you about this. I mean…considering the situation we’re supposed to politely dislike one another.”
Faith looked dubious. “Are you not over him?”
Judy snorted. “I was over him before it was over.”
“OK, so….? I don’t understand. You seem nice. I’m nice. And I’m just looking for advice.”
Judy started to argue, but realized she didn’t have the words to protest. For some unknown reason, Faith was kinda right. How could that be?
And then somehow they became friends. They met for coffee, did their laundry together at the laundromat, went shopping for trendy herbal teas, occasionally discussed Rudy and his idiocy that was inexplicably charming to Faith. Actually, it was fascinating for Judy to see him through her eyes. She saw his lame doodles as art, his childish nicknames as endearing(she’d been ‘Rudy’s Judy’ <hard eyeroll> while Faith was ‘Gotta Have Faith’). He was a different man to her.
Truth be told, Judy had always hesitated to use the word ‘man’ to describe him when they had been together. She’d always said ‘guy’: ‘This guy I’m seeing.’, ‘This guy I’m banging.’. She didn’t introduce him to her friends and definitely never told her mother about him. Faith brought out something unseen in Rudy, something genuine and good. Judy wondered if anyone would ever do that for her.
But standing in front of the Freeman Hotel made the pessimism rise up within her once more. Rudy was a grade A jerk and Judy was a dumb-ass for letting herself get caught up in this mess. Faith was a grown woman! She had other friends! Why did Judy care? Why did she persist?
Her phone buzzed- a text from Faith: did you find them? Is she pretty? Is she nice?
Jesus Christ, Faith, thought Judy. Why in the hell would you care if she is nice?
But Faith would care.
Ignoring her text for now, Judy reluctantly climbed the steps to the main entrance and went inside. She had followed Rudy’s car from the local diner where he had met with a tiny brunette. He’d met her three times that week. Always at the diner. Always in the afternoon. This was the first move to the hotel that she knew of.
They were still at the front desk.
“Hey! Rudy!” Judy waved her hands high in the air smiling widely.
He turned quickly and his face fell. “Goddamnit,” he mouthed.
And it was then that Judy realized: people are not black and white. Yes, Rudy was a cheating asshole, but he was also all the things that Faith had seen: he was assertive and funny, talented and thoughtful…sometimes. It didn’t mean that they had to be his girlfriend, but to see a fuller spectrum of someone- to see more of the good and lovely things within them- this was what life was for. People hid things, they kept secrets, but they also housed undiscovered goodness- stuff that was only extracted with the right people.
“He’s got a girlfriend,” Judy shouted to the tiny brunette. Turning to leave, she added: “You’re welcome.”
Judy knew that Faith would be sad. She would cry, or rather, she would cry harder, but she would get over it. God willing, she would dump Rudy’s cheating behind. Regardless, they would still be friends. An idiot had brought them together, but what did that matter?
Judy texted back: She’s pretty. She seems nice. He’s a tool. I’ll bring wine.