Lacey Is Asked A Personal Question During An Adult Game Of Truth Or Dare

Alisa Ungar-Sargon

The soirée is arranged to welcome Jake’s third wife into the fold. Alena’s a model, and twenty-three: ten years younger than the rest of us. It’s almost funny, trying to find something to talk to her about, when the rest of us stopped centering our personalities around our looks around the time we accepted corporate jobs and put a down payment on a Gold Coast apartment with a view. She hasn’t moved from her chaise lounge, her back fully turned to the other couple in attendance. I’m trying viciously not to compare my lowlighted lob to her (expensive) elbow-length blonde hair.

The outdoor furniture we’re sitting on is artfully arranged around the spiraling flagstones, leading down to a kidney pool. Jake isn’t famous enough to do one of those Architectural Digest videos, but he once convinced a YouTuber to come all the way up to Wilmette to “bump into him on the street” and do a “spontaneous” tour. 

He sits down next to my husband and looks at me. “Your turn,” he says.

“Give it to her good,.” Diane says and laughs from Alena’s other side. Her voice cracks, the way it does when she’s trying too hard.

Jake and I know Diane from high school, back when she was petite and needed a breast reduction. Paul, the Christian guy she married, towers over her when they stand together. 

Not even when I was twelve, jumping into Lake Michigan with my clothes on as a dare—not even when it became the peak of my middle-school career—did I ever think this game was fun. It wasn’t fun after my Bat Mitzvah, and it isn’t fucking fun in my thirties.

It’s even worse now, because I can’t hide in a dare—not when it’s Jake’s turn, he’s a jackass; he’d make me swat a neighbor or something. 

“What’s the most romantic thing that’s ever happened to you?” Jake asks me.

My heart stutters. I smile wide, probably exposing lipstick on my teeth. How else do I compensate for the fact that I’m a terrible liar. I wonder if Ben knows how terrible yet, or if that’s something two years of marriage can still cover up.

Romanticness isn’t something I’ve thought a lot about recently. Ben and I have sex, but it’s become a calculation, an item. Did we have sex this week? Yes? Great. No? Then he’s going to come at me when I’m most tired, most inconvenienced. Better to get it out of the way when I have the patience for it. Better to get to it when I don’t have a deadline. Better to get to it before his puppy dog eyes say he’ll be talking about this with his friends—or worse, in therapy. 

Romantic used to be meeting up for dinner at fancy restaurants after work. Romantic used to be holding hands while we took nighttime walks. But when I stopped caring, it stopped happening. It hadn’t really been there to begin with.

The most romantic thing that’s ever happened to me.

I can answer that, right? 

I can answer that.

The key is simplicity. 

“When Ben proposed,” I say. 

I look over at him, with his faux vintage band T-shirt and five o’clock shadow, and he smiles back.

“Can we be done with this game?” I ask the gathering at large. 

“Wait wait wait,” Jake says. “I remember you saying it was your idea to get married. When did Ben propose?”

My pulse quickens. “No, it was something we agreed on together. Ben proposed to make it official. And it was very romantic.”

Is that enough?

It’s not enough. 

Jake smells blood.

“Tell us about his proposal!”

Alena, bless her heart, perks up. “Ooh, yes, tell us! Jake, you always ask the best questions.”

Jake Stine was never as hot as he was when he was thirteen. The girls were atwitter about him, with his chiseled jaw and styled hair. He grew up and filled out and now his jaw is just square and his hair is thinning and he wears these stupid trendy glasses and this stupid silver chain. He grew up and now he’s just insufferable, making almost a million a year.

I remember Jake holding my gaze over the gearshift, when he was still handsome. He lowered his mouth to my arm, over the course of three shuddering breaths. Instead of the softness of his lips, there was sharp, unexpected pain. I yelped and tried to pull my arm back, but he had it in a vise grip, refused to let go until he did, the culprits showing in his malicious smile. 

For days, I walked around with long sleeves covering the twin crescents on my forearm. Every time I felt for them through the fabric, the same thrill rushed through me as I wondered when it would happen again.

Of course, nothing happened. Of course, we never spoke of it. 

Yes, I want to meet the third wife. Yes, I want to see her. Yes, I want my superiority to eat my jealousy. 

“It was all Lacey’s idea,” Ben says. “Tell ’em,” he says to me, mistaking my silence for humility.

“We went to a fancy restaurant,” I say. I try to remember the details I repeated at the time, when I was valiantly covering up my disappointment. “He wrote a poem, about our relationship up until then, and he had them bring the ring out in a piece of cake.” I had to hold myself back from retching when he licked the frosting off before holding it out for my finger. 

“Aww,” Alena says, disinterested. 

“And then he whisked you away to Mexico,” Diane pipes up. 

“Right,” I say.

I flick my eyes to Jake. He’s still calculating, but at least he moves on, asking Paul what he thinks about when Diane makes him go to synagogue. (Food, it turns out.)

On my way to the bathroom, I “accidentally” turn down the wrong hallway so that I can see my favorite room. Jake calls it his study, but it’s more of a personal museum, full of artifacts from his travels and back-channel connections. In contrast to his interior decorator’s minimalism throughout the rest of the house, this room at the end of a hallway gets more stuffed each time I see it. There’s no longer even a pretense of organization, and Jake stopped showing it to people a couple of years ago. 

Among the first editions, historical artillery and original paintings, he has this one statue that I keep returning to. It takes some tiptoeing to get to it, tucked as it is in a back corner by a floor-to-ceiling window: a ceramic piece by Ayumi Shigematsu. Its sweeping, pastel-colored trajectory opens a small piece of me, and I can remember what it’s like for the future to be uncertain. 

Back in the kitchen, Alena stands by the counter, spine ramrod straight. 

“Everything okay?” I say.

She jerks her head up from her phone, eyes wild. Her hand twitches, as though she’s about to hide it behind her back. She changes her mind.

“Look at this,” she says, turning her phone to show me. 

On the screen are her Instagram DMs, with a message from her requests folder—from a stranger. She turns it back so she can read it herself. 

“It says, I’m only saying something because if it were me, I’d want to know. The man you’re married to is an abuser. I’m friends with his ex.

My heart lurches. Half my mind freezes, calm in its assurance that this is a mistake. The other half goes into overdrive. Who is she? Who is the ex? Does Jake have exes I don’t know about? Is she credible? How bad is the abuse? Is it like, rape, bad? Anything less than rape shouldn’t be an issue, right? Anything like groping could just be someone whining, right?

Alena looks at me expectantly.

“Who is it?” I ask weakly.

“It’s a throwaway account.” 

She keeps reading. 

I don’t want to hear it. The message goes on, and my eyes start to hurt. Head trauma. Emotional and verbal abuse. Choking. By the time she finishes, my hands are trembling.

“Is there proof?” I say.

“She says he has a mugshot from last year. She says the necklace he’s wearing matches hers. Also there’s a Yeti mug with his nickname on it, from the ex.” 

Her eyes rove around the kitchen, as if she can spot the mug through the cabinet doors. I half expect her to start opening them right then and there.

“Did you know?” she asks. 

Her big stunning eyes train on me, unblinking. My throat goes dry. She’s just twenty-three: this fact hits me anew. She thought I should feel some kind of responsibility for her, that I should be looking out for her. Like that was the default. From me—someone she barely knows. 

“I didn’t know all that,” I say.

“But did you know?” she says again. 

I swallow. 

“I mean, what do you expect?” I say. “You married someone after six weeks. Why would someone like him want to be with a child? Didn’t you ever think about that?”

Alena’s glare hardens. She holds her phone out, like she’s pointing it at me, and her hand trembles. “You judge me?” she says. “You can’t even imagine what it’s like to actually like your partner.” 

She goes back out, slamming the door.

On the way home, Ben comments on how strange Jake and Alena seem together. How ordinarily a girl like her would get a guy like him out of her system—not marry him.

“She’ll get money in the divorce, then,” I say without feeling.

“You’re such a cynic!” Ben says. 

He leans over and squeezes my thigh, like it’s all a big joke. And I remember another car, another night, another hand on my body. 

Ben pulls into our parking spot and we take the elevator up to our apartment. He takes off his shirt on his way to our room and over his shoulder I can see the city, lit up from within. 

We have such great views. It’s half the reason we bought the place. I just wish there were a third bedroom. 

Alisa Ungar-Sargon received her MFA from Northwestern University. Her writing has been nominated for The Pushcart Prize and included in Best Small Fictions. For more information, please visit her website at and follow her on X at @_alisaus.

Photo by Michael Discenza on Unsplash

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