“Every silver lining has a cloud.”
Chilbert had the skirt up to her waist when she started to cry, the leg slung over his shoulder jiggling, heel knocking into his back. He looked up. From this angle he could see the layer of coverup over a cluster of pimples at her jaw. He flinched, looking away as though he’d happened upon a charity appeal for a cleft-lipped child.
“Qué pena! This was a huge mistake. I don’t know what I’m doing here.” Tears starting to gather at her chin, threatening to drip on his hair.
“It’s okay,” said Chilbert. Using the tone he reserved for animals and children. “We’re just having fun. Don’t worry. Everything’s fine.” Trying to salvage any remaining chance he still had.
“No it’s not okay. I shouldn’t be doing this. Jesus would be so angry if he knew. He’d kill me. He’d kill you.”
Chilbert tried to make sense of her statement. The last thing he felt like getting into, except possibly familial history, was Kristina’s religion. In fact the best thing to do now was get out. Quickly assessing the situation. Cut his sunk costs, even from within a thong’s distance of the first action he’d had in months. If he went straight to the gate now he might even be able to get a few more Friends before the next flight. Chilbert lifted the leg off of his shoulder and set it down on the tile.
“We all make mistakes,” he said. “God isn’t judging you.” Hoping this would be enough.
“No no, not Jesus, Jesus,” she cried, stressing the second syllable. “My husband. I’ve never cheated on him, ever. And look at me.” She was sobbing now.
“Your husband,” Chilbert repeated blankly.
“I was here dropping him off. We just found out he was getting redeployed, como, two months ago.” Wailing as she spoke. “They promised last time it was the last time, but now they’re sending him back to Afghanistan.” This sounding, through her crumpled mouth, like yevgenystan. A Russian figure skater.
“Jesus,” said Chilbert, without any irony. Flashing ahead to a scene in which he was seated safely at home, his door suddenly kicked in by a large Hispanic man in green camouflage fatigues. Picturing a gun in his face. “You didn’t tell me you were married.”
His accusation making Kristina cry harder. Chilbert couldn’t think. Standing up he put his arms around her shoulders, made shushing sounds. His eyes imploring the sprinkler head above for answers.
“It’s okay, it’s okay,” he murmered. “Nothing happened. Right? We didn’t even do anything.” This last at least true, his regret quickly turning into relief. “Don’t worry, everything’s gonna be okay.” Clearing his throat. “Your husband, he’s already gone?” Holding his breath for her response.
“Si, he’s on his way to Fort Lewis,” said Kristina, still crying, though less hysterical than a minute earlier. He felt her take a deep breath, their hearts slowing in unison by a few beats. “I just, I always stay at the airport after he leaves. Usually I have dinner, do some work. It’s too hard going back home without him.”
Chilbert said nothing. She hiccuped once, leading him to hug her tighter. They stood together, his back against the metal door.
Two women came into the bathroom, heels clicking, their voices ringing against the walls. Going to the division of stalls on the other side. First one, then a second stream of pee, flushing in stereo. A conversation near the sink comparing what Chilbert gathered were toiletries, the one woman shouting her opinion over the hand dryer. Wheels rolling on the floor, the door closed behind them. The surround settling again.
Kristina spoke after a minute, her voice suddenly even. “I just lost a sale.” Pulling herself loose from Chilbert’s embrace. She shook her head, disgusted.
“I’m sorry?” Chilbert asked, confused. Resisting the urge to reach for her again. He shook off the corporeal memory of her warmth.
“Mascara,” said Kristina. “That was at least two tubes of Luscious Lash. Lasts through mud, sweat and tears. Never budges, never smudges. See?” She gestured to her face, tracks where tears had run down revealing the skin under her foundation. “No streaks, right?”
“Right,” Chilbert repeated, though he wasn’t sure what he was looking for.
“I’m always off for a few days after Jesus leaves,” she said, bending to pull up her pantyhose. “Any other day, I could have gotten them like that”—snapping a thumb and forefinger together, nails pearlescent—“for the mascaras and probably liner too. It’s easier to sell the set, actually. But it’s okay. I’ll bounce back in a few days.” She rubbed one hand over a wrinkle in her skirt. “I wouldn’t be in the top five, otherwise.”
“The top five?” Chilbert really had no idea what she was talking about now.
“Mary Kay. I’m one of their best independent sales directors, three years in a row.” A note of pride in her pronouncement. “I got the Cadillac and everything. Well last year it was a Toyota, actually. Pero at least we got to choose the color.”
“Mary Kay… makeup?” Chilbert said. Feeling for a foothold in the conversation.
“The largest privately held cosmetics conglomerate. Their headquarters are in Addison, just a little ways from here. I’ve been invited to the ranch every year now. You should see it, pools, a stable. Que linda. It’s like the tv show Dallas, only better. Only…” Her mouth turned down, eyes beginning to tear up again.
“Only what?” Chilbert leaned back against the door. “You can tell me, Kristina. I’d say we’re pretty much old friends by now, right?” Raising her eyes to his she laughed, a tear rolling down one cheek. He smiled at her.
“So what’s going on? I may not know anything about makeup, but I do get sales.” She gave him a dubious look. “Come on, you never know. I might actually be able to help.”
“Okay,” she said. Sitting down on the plastic toilet seat cover. “So first few months this year I was totally making my numbers. I thought I might even get the top spot—they give you an all-expenses-paid cruise, and Jesus and I haven’t been on vacation in years…” She trailed off, noticing his expression. “Sorry. Anyway now something’s off. My orders keep dropping. And you know what the worst part is?”
Chilbert shook his head.
“Last week miss number six, this puta Amber Lynne with bad highlights from Atlanta, calls me to talk shop. That’s how she says it, ‘talk shop.’ Super sweet but I know she wants something.
So we’re on the phone and she says ‘Krissy,’ like we’re best friends or something, ‘Krissy I was hopin’ you could give me some advice.’ With that stupid accent. Then she has the nerve to ask me how to tap into the army wives network. Like it’s as easy as watching Lifetime or something.
So I come right back with that same fake voice she’s using, and I’m like, ‘Amber, you know Jesus is in the Marines, not the Army!’ Which she does because we had a long conversation about it at the ranch last year. That dumb bitch thinks I already forgot how she tried to get the same information from me already. But she knows I make almost all my sales that way. It’s probably the only good thing about being married to the military.” She punctuated this last sentence with a bitter laugh.
Chilbert found himself equally perplexed and turned on by Kristina’s instant transformation from weeping part-time widow to hardnosed saleswoman. Still, any question of a hookup was pretty much gone at this point. Now he was just wasting time. He needed to get her to the point so he could get out of here.
“I’m sorry Kristina, but I don’t really understand what any of this has to do with your sales.”
“The thing is,” she said, refocusing, “what Amber doesn’t know is that I haven’t been getting the same return on the Marine connections for a while now. I’ve been busting my ass in other places to make up the difference, but this year I don’t think I’ll be able to close the gap.
I knew it was a risk doing so much of my business online but I was just trying to think outside the box, you know, like they tell us to. Using every tool we have to reach more people, make more numbers.”
“You know Kristina, online sales is actually what I do, in a manner of speaking,” said Chilbert. “Keep talking.” Slightly more interested now.
“So Jesus started helping me a few years ago. We came up with the plan together, trying to figure out another income stream for while he was gone. He was like, ‘you tell me what to sell, and I’ll get the guys to send it to their wives. It’s basic home ec, just like we learned in middle school, remember?’ We met in seventh grade,” she said, abruptly wistful. “I always tell people he’s my middle school sweetheart.”
“That’s nice,” Chilbert said. “But so that sounds like it was a brilliant idea. What’s not working?”
“It is brilliant, no? It came to me one night just like that—” snapping her fingers again. “I always used to think wouldn’t it be nice if I got care packages from Jesus while he’s deployed, just like I send to him. But it’s a little hard to get presents in Camp Rhino. Well that’s where they sent him last time, anyway. This time it’s Kunar Province.” Her eyes starting to well up. She tore a few sheets of toilet paper from the roll and dabbed at them.
“Anyway we set up regular deliveries, once a month, to the wives. I got a good rate on these cute cards from a place here in Dallas, and I write a message for every order. Like, ‘miss you so much, can’t wait to see your beautiful face again.’ Like that.” She looked suddenly fierce. “Amber’s missing the whole point if she thinks she can pull this off, anyway. It’s not about the makeup, you know? It’s about the gesture. It’s about knowing that even if he’s thousands of miles away, and you only get to talk once a week on some shitty Skype connection, and you have to raise the kids like a single mom, that your husband’s still thinking about you.” Outburst finished, she lapsed into silence.
“I admire you so much, Kristina,” Chilbert said after a moment. “You and your husband. Thank you both for your service.” He paused for what seemed like a respectable length of time. Continuing a minute later.
“So let me see if I understand the situation. You were making most of your sales from other servicemen in the same social network as your husband. Now in the last few months business has dropped precipitously. I mean, I read the news. We all know it’s been a dangerous time.
So I’m guessing the problem you’re experiencing is probably the same one our government’s having. It’s an attrition issue, right? Rising casualty rates. You’re losing sales because you’re losing customers. Literally.”
Kristina nodded, her neck bent. She lifted her head to look up at Chilbert, shame etched across her forehead. “I don’t know what to do. We need the money. Both Jesus and I are helping our families at home, and I promised my sister I’d find a way to bring her here this year. This isn’t just about me.” Hanging her head again. “I get it if you’re judging me. If you think I’m a horrible person. You wouldn’t understand, though.”
Chilbert bent his knees, dropped down so that he was even with the toilet. Lifting her chin with his hand, he looked at her until she raised her eyes to his.
“No Kristina, I think I do,” he said. “I understand more than you know. Even better though, I think I have a way to help.”