Nina wanted you to believe that it was merely hormones. That's why she reacted so violently. It was just her time of the month. It wasn’t. Nina wanted you to believe that she didn’t already know about the pen. She did.
She already knew when you first met in the break room, which always smelled of burnt coffee. She “accidently” bumped into you, splashing scalding coffee on your favorite Spiderman tie. This led you to apologize with that Irish guilt of yours, even though it wasn’t your fault.
Nina said, “Well, now you’ll have to take me out to Starbucks,” which would have been cute in her Oklahoma accent if she hadn’t been so congested due to seasonal allergies.
“Sure,” you said because you have never said no to anyone.
Nina wanted to believe that you fell madly in love with her at that moment like you said you did two months later, but she just couldn’t. Falling in love was inconsistent with her life so far.
Nina found your Myspace page almost a whole year before you met, back when you were still working in medical records and she was a part-time medical assistant. She knew then.
You had fallen on one knee in a spastic moment of adoration in her favorite, used bookstore. You were asking her to be you one and only. You didn’t have a ring so you put a twist-tie around her finger.
Nina said yes because she really didn’t think there would be anyone else since there had never been before. Her life was straight-forward like a shopping list. Plus she was almost sure that she loved you.
You had asked Nina to move in and she started doing your laundry right away. She liked to fold your warm briefs into triangles. She bought you colored and striped underwear. She hated tighty-whiteys.
That was how she found the pen, with its tell-tale inscription. To Ben, with Love. From Kari. You had forgotten to take it out of your pocket. It was a dull silver and black. She picked it up gently as if it might burn her fingers. Nina held onto it for two weeks while you tore through the entire apartment, your stomach caught in whirling circles. You lost your appetite. You couldn’t imagine where you had misplaced it, but didn’t mention it to Nina. You didn’t know that she already knew.
Finally, Nina confessed but with a tone that made you feel like the guilty party. “Look what I found,” she said accusingly. And, immediately after, “when were you going to tell me?” As if you had hidden it from her on purpose, proving that you were a liar like all the others.
“It’s nothing,” you retorted, reaching out for it. Nina tightened her grip. “I’ve just had it forever. It’s like a lucky charm.”
Nina almost felt bad but then she remembered. “Really?” Nina asked because she already knew who Kari was. “It doesn’t mean anything? Then you won’t mind if I replace it with a nicer one?”
Then she threw the curve ball before you had a chance to respond: “Who gave it to you?”
You abruptly opened the refrigerator. “What do you want for dinner?” Nina knew all about this avoidance trick. She had used it before. Nina just wanted you to admit it out loud. This monster that she had known about for over a year. She just wanted it said so it wasn’t a secret anymore. “Please,” she pleaded.
“Don’t you trust me?” you asked. Nina thought it was such a cliché that she didn’t want to answer. But that wasn’t the only reason.
“I want you to get rid of it,” she finally admitted.
“No.” You snatched your corduroy jacket off the hook. “I need to get some air.” Nina could see that you were shaking. She wished she could make herself very small and crawl inside you and see what was really going on.
As soon as the door shut, Nina threw the pen on the hardwood floor that was impossible to keep clean. When it broke she started breathing again.
Nina knew that you were running along Lake Michigan. That’s what you always did when she wanted to talk about you. About your past.
Nina fixed the pen and told you it was just her hormones. She went crazy at that time of the month. She didn't bring it up again. It's two years later and she still pulls out the hidden marriage certificate with the names: Ben Holden and Kari Inson. She traces the names with her finger. She wonders if you even know that it’s missing from your desk drawer.