Alina tries to be a good wife, she really does.
They were married so young, before they truly knew who they were. It’s not her fault that she outgrows him, that she surpasses him in so many ways. She tries not to outshine him, encourages him to take his turn under the spotlight… but he doesn’t want it. Doesn’t want her to have it, either. Mal wants… quiet, simple, traditional. She wanted that, once, too.
She meets him at an art show (not hers), both waiting at the coat check. There’s only one girl working it, left to sort through racks and racks of expensive wool coats and giant puffy parkas alone.
He knows who Alina is, has been trying to acquire one of her pieces for his collection. She invites him to visit her studio some time, partially because he’s practically dripping in money and partially because she wants to. Alina rarely let herself want anything, anymore. But she wants to see Aleksander again, so before she pulls her hood up over her dark hair and walks out the door, she gives him her card with her personal number scribbled across the top.
Mal had been the outgoing one, once. Growing up in their small town he’d been the stud athlete, the hottest guy in their grade, the one everyone wanted at their parties. Alina had been his shadow, the quiet, artsy girl always standing behind him, forever cheering him on.
After they moved to the city he’d just… faded. She started art school, found a community, discovered for the first time the sharp thrill of being praised. And she was praised often. The word prodigy was thrown around, but she hated the pressure that came with such a title.
Mal was unfocused. He took whatever jobs he could get: construction, bartending, security… but they were just paychecks to him.
Alina would come home, paint all over her, beaming as she told him about her new piece, and he would listen, and smile, and ask if she had pictures on her phone. He came to all of her art shows, stood beside her while the art world raised her up, celebrated her, adored her.
When he proposed she thought this is it, this is love, this is happiness.
And it was, for a time.
“Fucking forgive me for not wanting to go to another idiotic party!”
“So now I’m idiotic?”
“I didn’t say--fuck, Alina, don’t twist my words.”
“Well, it’s a party for me , so if it’s idiotic, then so am I, Mal.”
“It’s been a bad week, okay? I’m sorry, I just can’t do it tonight.”
“And what do I say when everyone asks where you are?”
“See! You don’t even care if I’m there, you just care how it looks!”
“Don’t worry, Alina, they’ll be too busy kissing your ass to notice that I’m not there holding your purse.”
“Another fight?” Aleksander slides silently into the space beside her, and she startles slightly when he speaks. “You look beautiful, by the way.”
“He’s not feeling well,” she replies flatly, tucks a piece of blonde hair behind her ear.
“Does he know that it’s a big night for you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” she mumbles, glancing over at the screen that glows with an image of her face, larger than life. She wonders what Mal will do the day the award is delivered to their door. Will he pick a fight? Will he pick her up, spin her around, cover her face with kisses? Will he sulk? Will he finally say that he’s proud of her?
“He shouldn’t expect you to dim your light for his comfort.” His hand is warm on the small of her back. She should probably shrug it off. She doesn’t. “You shouldn’t have to lose, just because he can’t win.”
“Do you want to get a drink?”
Alina tries to be a good wife, she really does.
She spends less time at her studio, especially while he’s between jobs. Her mornings are his. She brings him coffee in bed, and she listens patiently as he complains about whatever trivial thing has set him off. Makes them both lunch, then bikes across town to stare at a blank canvas for hours. Her inspiration has just… gone.
He asks her one day, to show him a picture of what she’s been working on. She admits that she hasn’t been able to paint for weeks.
That night they have the best sex they’ve had in months.
“You painted all of these in the last three months?”
She’s afraid to say yes, afraid that Aleksander will make the connection.
“All pretty recently, yeah,” she finally admits, keeping it as vague as possible.
She sits on her stool in the corner of her studio next to her blank canvases as he walks through the space, pausing in front of each completed work in turn. She wonders why she’s bothering to hide the timeline, it’s all laid out for him on the canvas, anyways. He knows art, there’s no way he can’t read the emotions in the play of light and dark, the longing in the brushwork.
It’s been three months since she met him. She didn’t paint for a year. A year . Then she met him and produced an entire show’s worth of pieces in three months.
When he’s seen them all, he asks her, not a hint of a joke in his tone, “I don’t suppose you’d let me buy all of them.”
“Aleksander--” She’s speechless. He crosses the cement floor until he’s looming over her. The stool wobbles beneath her.
“This is some of your best work, Alina.” His hand cups her cheek. “I mean it.”
She barely manages to whisper out a thank you before he presses his lips against hers.
She knows it’s wrong, but she lets the kiss linger for a moment before she pulls away.
“I--I can’t,” she insists, but the tears welling in her eyes betray her. “I’m--um, I’m married.” She holds up her left hand, the modest stone sparkling in the late afternoon sun.
“Has he seen these?” He doesn’t specify, but she knows he means the paintings. The paintings that have Aleksander all over them.
Aleksander laughs. “Good.”
The first taste of success sweetened him. Gone were the days fighting about bills and rent and every fucking dollar spent. Mal liked the parties (the open bars). He liked the attention (being a part of something). He loved the money (spending and spending and spending).
He told anyone who would listen about his wife, the finest artist of her generation. Came to every show she was in, attended every party she was invited to, helped her to set up her new studio space. Fucked her every chance he got.
They were happy.
The day after she fucks Aleksander for the first time she goes to the salon. She wonders if this is what a mid-life crisis looks like, wonders if you can have a mid-life crisis at twenty-five.
She walks out a blonde, hair so light, so white, so pure . Some might call it overcompensation.
Mal hates it, which is a bonus.
He never asks if she’ll leave him. A relief, not to have to answer the question she dreads most. An agony, wondering if he’ll ever give her a reason to.
Mal goes to visit his parents for a weekend, Alina stays in the city. He doesn’t even ask why she can’t come. Doesn’t care anymore about the shows, the parties, the neverending obligations that come with being the best .
She spends the entire weekend at Aleksander’s. She’s barely gotten the strap of her bag off of her shoulder before he has her pinned against the wall of his foyer, barely catches her breath before his head is under her skirt, barely registers that she’s coming until he’s praising her for it.
She wakes on saturday with him fucking her prone body, already close from the sound of his grunts. She turns her head to smile sleepily at him, happily letting him find his pleasure within her cunt. She can’t remember ever feeling so desired, so needed, as when he uses her, calls her his little fucktoy, his little slut , taking it so good for me .
Saturday night they attend an event celebrating one of his friends, a beautiful sculptor named Genya who greets Alina with a hug and eagerly introduces her husband, David. David is a geochemist, Genya tells her proudly. Alina can’t help but watch them all night, the way they support and celebrate each other so easily, how disgustingly happy they look. She drags Aleksander into a supply closet, sucks him off until his cum is dripping down her throat, then returns to the party without a word.
On Sunday, Mal calls. Tells her he’s going to stay with his parents for a while. She doesn’t argue.
“I sold a painting today!” She squeals as Mal wraps his arms around her, squeezes her tight. They go out to a fancy restaurant that they can’t afford, order a bottle of champagne, and celebrate her first sale.
They walk home, hand in hand, stopping to kiss so often that the city is asleep before they reach their apartment building. They make love sweet, and soft, and slow that night, and that’s the night she knows, deep in her bones, that she’ll marry him, that he’s her forever.
Mal never returns to the city. He gets half of everything, but that’s fine with her. She would have given him more if he’d asked, to ease the guilt that eats at her.
A few years later he remarries, and his son is born six months later. She sends gifts, wishes him all the best.
He does not return the favour when her daughter is born, but she cannot bring herself to worry about it. She has her child, her husband, and her art. She has a place in the world.