He opened the door, and seeing where I was, strode across the empty room and sat down, with a stern, ready expression on his face. He was composed, and seemed prepared for a confrontation, for blackmail.
"I don't know what you think you..." he began, feigning a position of strength, but I cut him off with an imperious gesture of my hand.
"I'll keep your secret, but on condition."
"What is it?" he asked gruffly
"That you listen to what I have to say."
He was stunned, speechless.
"...! Of course," he stuttered,"I-i'm listening."
"I mean REALLY listen."
He was wide-eyed, shaken, and nodded his silent affirmation.
I paused a while for emphasis.
"I've noticed you, around the office. The swagger in your stride; the way you address yourself to people. You enjoy your life. You achieve your goals. So I get it, that you want more - more than life seems to be offering. You want your youth back, but you know that's impossible. You still have your looks, and the confidence to use them. Why should you be tied to one woman?"
Obediently, he didn't interrupt, permitting a brief hiatus during which I studied him. He seemed uncomfortable with this sermon, but at the same time relieved at hearing a moral argument he'd already, himself, dismissed.
"I've noticed you, Peter, because I envy you. I envy what you have, what you are; what I can never be. You take it all for granted, as well you might. But know, that you could lose it all like *that*" I said, snapping my fingers.
His eyes narrowed almost imperceptibly.
"I'm not threatening you," I said, lowering my tone for verisimilitude.
"I'm warning you. You could lose everything, and take it from me, you will not know the gravity of that statement until it is too late. You'll wake up one day, and Cassie will know. She'll just know. It could be a stain on your shirt, a series of poor alibis, even a comment in your sleep - but she'll know. She's not the kind of woman to stand by you. You'll be out the door, and that will be that. She'll get the house, the kids, that lovely car of yours. You'll get the child-support bills. You'll be living in some cheap bedsit, temporarily at first, but weeks will grow to months, and you'll grow roots like an incipient weed. That young girl won't stick with you either. You'll start to look pathetic in her eyes; in everyones' - most of all, your own. You'll realise how weak you are, alone in a dark, dirty place. It'll become hard to face people, and your work will slip. Every day will be a struggle, and every night a carnival of self-loathing. And every day, Peter, you'll wish, you'll pray even, with all your heart - that you could rewind, and do things differently. But no matter how much you disbelieve your own mistakes, they won't disappear. They'll be waiting for you every time you wake up, until one day there won't be anything left of you. There will only be those mistakes, those lapses of judgement that seem so thrilling now, reflected in smoking glass as a poisonous venom. And those mistakes will be living your life for you; inhabiting your body and carrying it through the world while you watch, comatose, and powerless to effect any change. Because this moment will have passed. This intervention. Take this opportunity, Peter. End it."
My final words were bitter and incisive, to hammer in the message. The silence hung between us like a guillotine, and I was suddenly aware of how loud the ticking of the nearby clock was; as, i'm sure, was he. Neither of us moved for some time, until finally he shifted noisily on the seat, and raised his eyes from the neutral space of the ash tray. His haggard gaze dashed briefly across mine, and awkwardly away towards the door. He stubbed out what remained of his cigarrette, nodded a few times too many, and wordlessly, pitifully, raised himself and began trudging across the room. His hurried footsteps echoed loudly on the wooden floor; a door creaked back and forth, and he was gone.
"You can come out now, Cassie."
Dried-up gullies of mascara lined her sorrowful face, and my heart wept for her, but I remained impassive. She felt her way over to the recently-vacated seat and tried to compose herself. I reached across the table and clasped my cousin's hand supportively, envious of her strength.