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Jo's Secrets
A Romantic Wife Sharing Novel

by Arnica Butler

Jo never talked much about her past, so Nate is naturally curious about her secrets when they move back to her hometown to save the family business. It isn’t long before he realizes that Jo may be the woman he married, but before she was Jo, she was T.J.

And T.J. was... well, someone else.

Now Jo is surrounded by ex-lovers, and potential younger lovers, and Nate’s imagination is running wild. He’s supposed to be writing the Next Great American Novel, and instead he’s penning filthy stories with his wife in mind as the main character.

But when life starts to imitate art, and art starts to imitate life, Nate becomes unsure of how much of his fantasy is fiction, and whether his marriage to Jo was ever what he thought it was... and whether it can ever be the same again.

Chapter 1
“The Laughing Goat?” Nate said, turning the wheel and peering out from under the sun visor to make sure he was reading the signs correctly. Jo was blankly looking out her window, lost in her own thoughts.
“Hon?” he asked, putting a hand on her knee. Jo snapped her attention to the windshield, looking ahead, squinting. Making, in Nate’s opinion, a big show of being interested in his question, to cover up the fact that she had been miles away. Whenever she pretended to have been paying attention, she blinked more than usual, and made a thin-lined grimace out of her mouth. It was an expression she never wore in response to anything else.
But he no sooner had these negative thoughts than he dismissed them: these were tough times, and he should be cutting his wife a break. He had to stop thinking only of himself, and his feelings. Jo, self-possessed and cucumber-cool as she was, had every right to be having trouble with... this. “Uh, yeah,” she said, in a lilting voice that, like her grimace, was only for this particular situation. “Laughing Goat. I don’t know. This is all... none of this was here when I was here. It’s like, a completely different place.”
There was a silence while she looked out of the passenger window theatrically. It was almost like she was starring in a play, and the stage directions were: Jo looks wistfully out the window at her old town.
“So... you want to go there?” he asked, slowing the car and braking his impatience as well. “I don’t know,” Jo snapped, obviously lost in thought again and irritated to be shaken out of it. “I mean... sorry. I don’t know. I guess. It’s... sounds kind of hipster, doesn’t it?” She was trying to make up for being snappy with that last bit. She was smiling, pushing her long bangs from her forehead, tipping her head against her hand with her elbow on the car door. “What’s their logo look like?”
She looked behind them, appraised the sign swinging from the porch of The Laughing Goat, and said: “Huh,” with a shrug.
Not bad, the shrug meant.
“Maybe Sayville is just a nice place to live now,” Nate suggested, and he couldn’t keep his own desperate hope – that Sayville was, in fact, a nice place to live now – from cracking through his voice.
Sayville, Georgia, a stone’s throw from Tennessee, was a town surrounded by beautiful landscapes and full of dark shadows everywhere. There were signs that Sayville was being infused with a little bit of money, but an air of decay and hopelessness still hung about the place. There was a Southernness to it that made it all the more depressing, but Nate supposed that was because he was not from the South: everything in the South seemed like it was either dangerous or tragic to him.
But it wasn’t just the town. There was the matter of his wife, and the change coming over her, like something was seeping back into her, the way the water seeped into the wood-framed houses. He had turned the car around, because he was hungry, and there was not much left of Sayville’s three blocks of half-shuttered downtown. This was the kind of place that closed everything but antique shops on Sundays, and since he had never lived anywhere but a city – his high school had more students than the whole of Lee County – he found himself extremely agitated by the lack of restaurants.
“Oh, are we going there?” Jo said, but not like she really even wanted to ask, or like she cared about the answer. She was looking out the window again.
They rolled right up to the curb next to the restaurant, and Nate leaned on the steering wheel, searching for “No Parking” signs.
Jo was already stepping out of the car. “There’s no rules about parking,” she muttered.
There’s no rules.
It wasn’t a big deal. He wasn’t a Grammar Nazi. This was the kind of speech-level mistake that he knew Jo would never write. But in the twelve years he had known her, it had also been the kind of thing he would have bet large sums of money on never hearing her say.
The inside of The Laughing Goat was unexpectedly pleasant. Dark green billiards tables matched dark green lamps, brown leather booths and dark wood completed the classic pub appearance. Things looked new, taken care of, and – and this was crucial – not trashy at all.
“Not bad,” Jo said, removing her sunglasses.
Not bad – but, as was usual in Sayville, customer service was on more of a geological timescale. No one appeared behind the bar, or from the kitchen, and two other patrons were stirring melted ice water in empty glasses amid the remnants of a very large meal that no one had yet bothered to clear. But there was air conditioning, which was a big bonus. It was not very good – probably half as much as was actually required to drain the Georgia air of water and heat – but it was something.
Jo plopped into a booth, not seeming to notice the lack of customer service at all. Jo, in fact, had acquired a monumental level of patience – not typical of her at all – since they crossed the Mason-Dixon line.
And patience, it seemed, was what was required. A waitress sauntered out of the kitchen, surveyed the dining room, crossed over to the messy table, picked up half of the dishes, and very s-l-o-w-l-y said:
“Can I get y’all anythin’ else?”
It was another ten minutes, during which time the waitress disappeared again, and the patrons continued sitting, and the air conditioning continued huffing as hard as it could, before she reappeared and – slowly again – took their drink order.
“I’ll have tea,” Jo said.
“What kind of tea is it?” Nate asked.
He already knew the answer, because there was only one kind of tea served in Sayville and it was technically cold syrup with a tea flavor, but he enjoyed asking the question because he enjoyed the fact that it made everyone screw their eyes up in confusion. It really hadn’t been his thing to fuck with people in this way since his adolescence, but he couldn’t help himself.
Jo shot daggers at him, while the waitress scrunched her eyes together in an attempt to fathom the question.
“It’s... tea,” she said finally.
“It’s sweet tea, darlin’” Jo said, in an extra-thick drawl. Her eyes glinted at Nate, and he backed down. The waitress looked from one to the other, unsure of what to say.
“I’ll have a beer,” Nate said, smiling.
She looked at him, and while it would have been fun to see how long she would have done that, he could feel Jo glaring at the side of his face. “What kind do you have?” Nate prompted her.
“Kinda what?” the waitress said.
“Kind of beer,” Nate said patiently. “What kinds of beer do you have?”
“Uh... we got... Coors and then some kinda special one, it’s...”
“Have that one,” Jo said to Nate, and her voice was icy.
“I’ll have that one,” Nate said, smiling broadly at the waitress.
The waitress was now confused, so a long beat passed before she took a deep breath and asked, very genuinely: “You want me to find out what it is?”
He smiled with closed lips. “That’s quite all right,” he said grandly. “I’m sure it’ll be good.” “Bless her heart,” Jo said, after she’d disappeared.
There was another one. “Bless your heart.” Jo had never blessed so much as a sneezing child in her life, and now she was walking around Georgia like she wanted to be Pope.