"Did you really mean it?"
I looked over the table at her. I was having lunch with my wife's best friend. And a good friend to me, when it comes down to it.
"Mean what, honey?"
"That night, when you said next to Janie, if you ever fell in love with anyone else, it would be me?"
I remembered the conversation. Lori was married to an asshole, a serial cheater that would rather spend money on his girlfriends than pay the bills.
She had just found out he was cheating on her yet again, and had called Janie for comfort. Janie was out of town, visiting her grandmother, something she did about four times a year.
My shoulder became the substitute for her to cry on. She came over to the house, at my insistence, and stayed the night. I had called Janie while she was on the way over and asked for advice.
"Oh, honey, I'm sorry you have to deal with this. I'll be home tomorrow and take over. In the meantime, just let her talk. If she asks your opinion, tell her, but don't volunteer any advice, she won't really be listening and most likely wouldn't take it anyway. She just needs to vent. And if she's drinking or starts drinking, don't let her leave. You know she has a low threshold for alcohol. I love you, and I'll be home by ten. I'll take it from there."
She was indeed a mess when she arrived, parking sideways in the drive, narrowly missing the mailbox. Half a bottle of wine down and at least two sheets to the wind. I wouldn't let her have anymore alcohol.
"Lori, honey, no more tonight. You're gonna wake up miserable anyway tomorrow, a hangover won't help you any. Talk to me.
It came out in fits and starts, between sobs. They had been married for four years, a year behind us, and she was sure he was cheating before they were six months in to the marriage.
She had actually caught him twice, he sweet talked her into giving him another chance. I was pretty sure this one was the last straw. His lover had called her earlier at her job, telling her she was pregnant and wanting the money for an abortion. Told her she confronted him and he laughed, saying with a whore like her it could be anybody's, and he wasn't paying her shit. Lori told me the little speech she gave her.
"If I don't get the money for that abortion and have to go full term, I'll get a DNA test and sue your husband for the medical expenses. Plus, he'll be on the hook for child support unless I give it up for adoption. He makes pretty good money, I may just keep it to get the child support. I talked to a lawyer, he says besides child support I can make him carry medical insurance and start a college fund. So, it would be in all our interests to help me out now, and avoid ugly situations and publicity. Think about it and get back to me quick. I'm kind of have a limited window, here. If it means anything, I didn't mean to hurt you. He told me you were separated and he was just waiting for the divorce to be finalized."
"What are you going to do?" I asked her as I fed her coffee."
"I don't know. We're behind on our bills and I can't depend on him. If she has the baby It'll ruin us."
I couldn't believe she was talking like she was going to stay with him. I decided to be blunt.
"You could just dump his cheating ass and let him deal with it."
"I thought about it, but it gets more complicated. I just found out I'm two months along. I can't deny my baby his father, I just can't. What am I gonna do?"
She collapsed into tears again.
I was so angry with her husband Ron I wanted to kill him. I thought about it as she cried.
I had her wipe her face with a cool cloth.
"Listen to me. Then promise that what I say never leaves this room. I have a little money. I'll pay for her abortion. I don't want you to pay me back, and I want your promise never to speak of it again. That will solve the problem short term."
My voice got harder.
"My price is you have to listen to me without interruption. Next to Janie, you're the finest woman I know. Kind, loving, beautiful. Any man would be proud to walk beside you. If I wasn't married to Janie and you were single, I would pursue you relentlessly. I could see myself easily falling in love with you. You wouldn't have a chance. In another universe we would be soul mates and lovers."
"I never liked Ron. I only went to the wedding because Janie made me. I knew he would end up breaking your heart, I could see it in his eyes as he checked out Janie and every other woman in the room during your wedding reception. That leopard is never gonna change his spots. He'll end up cheating on you again and again, especially if he knows you won't leave him. You're in for a world of heartbreak, girl."
"That being said, if you ever need us, we'll be there for you."
She cried herself to sleep in my arms. I carried her into the spare bedroom and put a light blanket over her. I went back into the living room and poured myself a drink. Straight rye whiskey, my favorite. I only drank it when I was very happy or had something to think about.
She was still asleep when Janie got back. I put my hands to my lips and showed her Lori sleeping.
We kissed quietly and made coffee, whispering in the kitchen.
"How is she?"
"She's a mess. How can she let that asshole keep doing it to her?" I hissed quietly.
"I don't know honey. I'll talk to her when she gets up, but we both know it won't do any good."
Lori came in to the kitchen. Janie folded into her arms and the tears came again. I had already made my contribution, so I slipped out of the room. She stayed with us two days before going back to the asshole.
I paid for the abortion, saying nothing to Janie about it. Ironically, Lori lost her child four months in, spontaneous abortion. Lori confessed to me she though it was because she had helped end a life, karmic revenge. It must be awful to bear that much guilt.
They lasted almost two more years before she finally had enough and filed for divorce.
It shocked him so bad he came apart. She had to change her phone number and get a restraining order. He swore he was a changed man. I kind of believed him, but it was too little, too late.
She stayed with us for three months before she got back on her feet. She moped for the first three weeks, before life came back into her. I knew she was healing when I came home from work to find her in the kitchen, stirring pots.
"Welcome home dear. Your other wife will be a little late, so number two is taking care of dinner. Would you like some ... wine?"
She giggled and kissed my cheek.
Janie came in a little later and we dined, joking and laughing like we did in the old days.
"She'll be leaving soon." I said as we slipped into bed.
Janie reached for me and snuggled in.
"You're right. I'll be sad, but I'll be glad when she goes. I'm tired of chewing up pillows."
Janie was a vocal lover, not above screaming during her climax. She wouldn't vocalize while Lori was in the house, biting down on pillows to muffle her sounds.
Over the next six weeks, Lori found a better job with more chances for advancement, and a nice one bedroom apartment close by. It was a sad day when she left, but she wasn't out of the driveway before we were scrambling towards the bedroom. Janie was hoarse the next morning.
Janie and I had reached our seventh year. She was twenty nine, I was thirty. I started hinting about kids but she wouldn't discuss it. She didn't want to give up her job.
"It won't be giving up a job, it'll be a promotion. Motherhood can be a very satisfying career. Besides, we don't need the money."
I wasn't rich. But, I had a very good job as plant manager at the the plastic injection plant my family owned. I was an only child so I would end up with controlling ownership eventually, but I hoped it was a long way down the road. My grandfather owned it originally, but divided it between his two sons. Dad married early and was pretty stable, but Uncle Jack enjoyed a batchelor lifestyle. He always had a plastic beauty on his arm, the older he got the younger and more fake they got. My cousin, Jack Jr. did his best to emulate his dad.
Because of the business, prenupts were required for both me and my cousin, not negotiable.
There was a little tension when my grandfather named me plant manager and Dad to the board. Uncle Jack demanded to know why.
"To start with, he has a degree in business management. What degree does junior hold? That's right, in spite of spending five years in college, he never graduated, did he? Know how many days Dan has missed, going all the way back to high school and college breaks? Three, when he broke his arm. How many has junior missed? Oh, that's right, he's been fired from here four times, for attendance every time. I gave him the job because I want this place to grow and prosper, not collapse due to bad management. This discussion is over."
I'm sure junior would have quit in protest if he still actually worked there, but it became a moot point when Uncle Jack's high flying lifestyle came back to bite him in the ass. Pretty soon me had the IRS and a couple of Vegas casinos after him, and grandpa bought his share of the business back, paying off his debts and giving him enough to live on the rest of his life if he was sensible. He set up trust funds for both me and junior, to be released when we were forty. He put a neat little flyer in, saying that we could actually draw off the fund starting at twenty seven, in the amount equal to the amount we made that year. He did that to keep junior working. Junior hated it.
I was making forty five thousand a year, but I had only touched the trust fund twice, once to pay for Lori's abortion, and to pay for a short vacation to the Bahamas.
Janie has been sort of distant lately, and I thought giving her this vacation as a token of how much I loved her might pep her up. It did, until I brought up children again.
I finally lost patience.
"Janie, if you didn't want children, why did you say you agreed to having at least two when we married? Did you change your mind? If you did, didn't you think you should have shown me the courtesy of telling me. I'm about at the end of my rope."
I think my little rant scared her, because she made a little production of flushing her birth control pills.
Six months went by. I suggested we be tested, but Janie wanted to give it a little more time. I agreed to ninety more days, reluctantly.
Lori told us to relax.
"It'll happen when you least expect it. My suggestion is to keep practicing, often."
Finally I had myself tested. I was fine, plenty of little swimmers and very good mobility. I was trying to figure a way to get Janie tested when Lori invited me to lunch.
"I don't really understand your question, Lori. What's going on?"
She twisted the napkin in her hands, looking miserable and everywhere but my face.
"Lori, what's up? If you need to say something, spit it out."
She finally worked up the nerve to look me in the eye.
"I'm leaving town, Dan. I got a promotion at work, and I'm relocating to Atlanta. I'm leaving very soon. The only thing I'm going to miss about this town is you."
I was shocked. Up until last week she was at the house or on the phone two or three times a week. I wondered why she didn't call, but realized she was getting her affairs in order for her transfer.
"Damn, Lori, this is kind of sudden. Why didn't you tell us sooner. Does Janie know? She'll be devastated. She'll miss you terribly, we both will. And to answer your question, yes, in a different world I could fall easily for you."
The tears came then, hard. I knew that no one was eating lunch that day, so I got the check and put her in my car, calling the plant and telling them something came up, a personal emergency, and I probably wouldn't be back for the rest of the day.
I drove her out to the park, we often went to concerts there, the three of us sharing a blanket and a bottle of wine. I knew when Ron would upset her she would come here and watch the kids play. It soothed her.
There was a small gazebo off to the side, a quiet place surrounded by trees. It had a nickname, the love hut, because couples used it often for privacy. I took her there.
"What's going on, Lori? I haven't seen you this upset since before your divorce."
At the word divorce she started crying again. I held her, stroked her hair. Next to Janie, this was the woman I cared most for in the world.
"Hush, now. You did the right thing, you know you did. He never loved you like you deserved. You'll find a good man, you're too good of a woman not to."
She subsided to snuffles, and pushed away from me.
"I'm not crying over my divorce, I'm crying over yours!"
She jumped up and ran. I sat there stunned. What did she mean by that?
I found her by the playground, watching the children. We sat on a bench in the warm sunshine, watching them play with happy, innocent faces, while she outlined the destruction of my world.
"When I was offered the promotion, I had conflicted emotions. This was my hometown, I have never lived anywhere else, even the college was local. But I gave it hard thought, and realized there was just nothing left for me here. Ron was out of my life, and even though I dated some, I never felt attracted to anyone. It was time, time for me to start over, get a new life and move on."
"I felt at peace for the first time in forever. I took the job, and started planning the rest of my life. I realized as I planned I needed to say goodbye to the few people I loved, and some I didn't. I called Ron, seeking closure for that period in my life. He was overjoyed, taking it as a sign we might get back together."
"It didn't go well. When he found out I wasn't letting him have another chance, and that I'd soon be gone, he kind of lost it. He had been drinking before I got there, and as the night progressed, he drank harder."
"As I was getting ready to leave, I told him how sorry I was we didn't make it, saying if we had been as loving and loyal as you two, it might have been different."
"Nothing is like it appears" he snarled. "I've been banging Janie, your perfect friend, for about six months now. She's just like all you bitches, say the right thing, or catch her in the right mood, and she'll spread like peanut butter."
"I slapped him and called him a liar, and he better not let you hear him say something like that."
"He laughed and said you'd never hear it from him, she was too good a piece of ass to risk losing."
"He was in full pain mode now, knowing this was going to be his last shot at hurting me."
"I know you think I'm lying, but I can prove it, he said. She has a small bump right behind her left ear. You can never see it because of the way she's always worn her hair, you have to be nibbling on it to know. And that birthmark on her pussy? If she didn't shave you'd never know it was there. Lately she's decided to grow enough hair to shave a little heart and cover it up. It's like five o'clock shadow when you go down on her, it's so bristly."
I was reeling. The bump and the birthmark were there, and she was letting it grow out to form the heart.
"I'm doing her at least twice a week, he bragged. We do it on Thursdays when he has his weekly meetings, and Saturdays when he plays golf. While he's three putting, I'm getting a hole in one. We almost got caught two weeks ago, because it started raining.She always picks me up so no one will see me, I only get out after the garage door is closed. I was literally closing the patio door while he was in the kitchen. Had to walk two miles in the rain, that sucked. She made it up to me the next time, when she sucked."
I remembered that day and how flustered she looked. I asked her if anything was wrong and she said I caught her by surprise while she was daydreaming. I remember joking she should quit daydreaming about screwing other men, and she giggled and said that took all the fun out of it.
I was glad we didn't get lunch. My stomach was rolling.
She had stopped talking while I tried to control my breathing.
"It gets worse." she said sadly.
"He told me why she wasn't getting pregnant. She made a big deal about flushing her pills, then went the next day and got one of those implants that last for three months. She plans on saying she got tested and can't conceive. She doesn't want kids, can't stand them, doesn't want to wreck her body and make that kind of time commitment to anyone or anything. She's really shallow when you get down to it, odd how we never noticed it, isn't it? I must say she hid it really well."
"I can't really know why she decided to do this to you, you'll have to find that out on your own. I couldn't leave without telling you, I love you too much. I also realized that from now on, every time you look at me, you'll think of me as the one who destroyed your life, but I'm not. I could only do it knowing I would be gone, and I wouldn't feel pain every time I looked at you."
"In the future, when you think of me, if you think of me, try to remember the good times, and that I loved you enough to break your heart. Please take me back to my car now."
I was too numb to talk. I don't really know how I got back to the restaurant. We parked and sat for a minute before she got out.
"Give me a hug?" It was a really sad voice that asked.
I got out and hugged her tightly, tears finally starting. I was too choked up to speak.
She finally let go and touched my face.
"Goodbye Dan. I really wish it was another universe, so I could love your pain away."
I watched until her car rounded the curve and took her out of my life.
There's a reason it's called heartache. You literally ache, the pain is so intense. Anyone who has ever gone through this knows exactly how it feels. I don't think I took ten breaths in ten minutes.
I somehow stumbled home at my usual time. Janie was her usual self, chattering about mundane things when she stopped.
"What's wrong with you? You haven't heard a thing I've said. You're a million miles away. What's bothering you?"
"I'm bothered by the fact that my wife is a lying, cheating cunt, who's fucking the biggest asshole I've ever met while lying about how much she's looking forward to having our baby. That about covers it, wouldn't you say!"
Of course I didn't say that, but it went through my mind.
Looking at her fine body and beautiful face, tall, big chest, killer smile, I marveled that I had never really looked beneath the surface to see she was a self centered, egocentric bitch whose only concern with world events would be if it kept her from getting what she wants. I had been reviewing our life in my mind since talking to Lori, and kept getting angry at myself for not seeing it. I shook off my thoughts and came back to the present.
"Sorry honey, I got some news today about someone I love that made me sad."
Did she seem a bit uneasy? Damn, I hope so.
"Uh, what news, baby, someone dying?"
"Worse. And I'm very pissed that you didn't tell me."
She was looking a little pale around the gills.
"I don't know what you're talking about! Tell me!"
I looked at her with sadness you couldn't fake.
"Why didn't you tell me Lori was leaving? Atlanta? We'll be lucky if we see her twice a year. You talk almost every day. Did it not occur to you once to tell me? We could have given her a party, or better yet spend some private time together. I know I wasn't as close as you were, but damn it, she was still my friend!"
Twin emotions of relief and surprise played across her face. Then, for a brief second, shock.
"Lori? Atlanta? When?"
"Oh please. Don't say you didn't know. She asked me to lunch today, to tell me goodbye. As far as I know, she's already gone."
"She really left? She hasn't talked to me for a week. I called three days ago, but it went to voice mail. You know how busy she gets with her new job sometimes so I really didn't think much about it. She's really gone?"
She looked genuinely hurt and shocked. Well, she hadn't screwed her over, as far as I know.
"This isn't right. I'm going to call her, right now."
She did, repeatedly, becoming more and more upset. She tried her email, and Facebook. Nothing.
She was crying, real tears.
"Why did she go and not tell me? All our years of friendship, all our love, and she just leaves without goodbye. Why would she do it?"
I had tears in my eyes, for different reasons.
"I don't know hon. When I talked with her at lunch she told me she had seen Ron, and was upset by something by something he told her. Maybe it upset her so bad she forgot everything else."
She was really looking nervous by now.
"Did she tell you what they talked about?"
"No, she just said it didn't end well."
I actually hugged her, even though it gritted my teeth.
"Don't worry. I'm sure she'll call, or come by. We don't actually know if she's even left yet. Why don't you run over to her apartment tomorrow."
She grasped that lifeline.
"I'm sure that's it. I'll go over, first thing. I need to lie down. I'll see you in the morning."
She gave me a halfhearted kiss and went into the bedroom.
I sat up for a few more hours, sipping my rye, thinking.
I had to know. All day Thursday I worried over it. People noticed, and I told them I didn't feel well, and went home. Janie was surprised to see me.
She was sitting on the couch, hugging a pillow.
At her questioning look, I explained I wasn't feeling well.
"Did you get hold of her?" I asked, knowing the answer by the look on her face.
"No! I don't understand it! I've been her best friend for thirteen years, all the way to our junior year in high school. Why would she do that to me?"
I couldn't help it.
"Usually when someone does something like that it's over some deep emotion, like fury or betrayal. Have you done something to anger her, something she would equate to betrayal?"
She may as well have confessed, it was written all over her face.
"N, n, no, I can't think of a thing."
"Well, I don't know what to say then. I'm sure she'll call, maybe it was just too emotional for her."
She attacked me that night. It was more intense than it had been in years. I was already asleep when I felt her hands slid beneath my boxers. I came half awake and looked at her. Usually when she initiated sex she set the mood. Candles, music, lingerie. Tonight she was just naked, her profile highlighted by the security light shining through the blinds.
"Do you mind?" she said in a timid voice, another first. Usually she would just got me hard and climbed on. My body responded, she was one of the most beautiful women I had ever seen, and despite all my doubts and uneasy feelings, I still loved her.
It was the most tender, most passionate love making I could ever remember. She didn't demand anything or suggest anything, just became pliable to every whim and desire I had. I thought about just slamming her until I got off, giving her a true grudge fuck, but once again my stupid emotions got into the way. I put everything I had into pleasing her, bringing her to one peak after another with everything I had. When I finally collapsed, totally spent, she snuggled into me, gasping. I could feel the tears trickle onto my chest.
"Are you all right, baby?"
She tried to talk through her sobs.
"Yes, yes. I love you so much honey, so much."
What kind of fucked up mess had my life become that I lay with my wife after the most intensive lovemaking session in memory, not believing a thing she said?
She was soon sleeping, snoring lightly, as she did when she slept on mu chest. I lay there for an hour, staring into the darkness, before gently untangling us and getting up.
I sat in my den with three fingers of rye until four, letting my tears flow quietly.
I still managed to get up and report to work, looking halfway presentable. Didn't get a lot done, but made my presence known. Grandpa was seventy one, no longer officially on the payroll, but he still walked the plant at least once a week, and his sharp eyes missed nothing. He took one look at me and said "Office, now."
He pulled the blinds and locked the door.
"Business or personal?"
I tried to pretend.
"Don't bullshit me boy, I'm too old, I don't have time to do the dance. You look like shit. What's going on?"
He didn't like what I told him. He had been married once before he married grandma, to a woman that cheated before six months had gone by. He really didn't like cheaters. When he was still managing, if he got even a whiff one of his managers or their wives were straying, they found themselves on his carpet. If it was a manager, he was usually gone soon. If it was a wife, he usually gave the husband a week off to deal with it.
"You are gonna burn the bitch, right?"
"Probably not. It would take too much energy. Before you say it, if it is true, she's gone, but I don't feel like being a ringmaster in my own personal circus. I'll just cut my losses, stick to the prenupt, and move on."
"Not how I'd do it, but it works. Why don't you call your dad, see if he'll fill in for you for a day or two?"
"Already on it. He'll be here Monday. I'll call, let you know how it turns out."
He gave me a hard stare.
"See you do. And Dan, I'm sorry, I still remember how it feels."
I had the money. I could have hired a detective agency, gotten pictures and audio. I could have wired the house. But in the end, I knew I had to actually see and hear it in person.
Saturday morning I had a light breakfast with my wife, got a small kiss, loaded my golf clubs into my SUV, and drove away.
I went four blocks and turned into the church parking lot, pulling all the way around the building. The church had a basement, and if you stood at the door your head was just about level with the parking lot and the street. If you didn't know someone was standing there, you would never see them, especially if you were watching the road and doing the speed limit. Twenty minutes later her little sports car went by.
I waited until she was out of sight and walked back home. I went upstairs into the spare bedroom, the one we were going to convert into a nursery, left the door open slightly, sat down and waited.
Forty minutes later I heard the garage opener.
The stairs act like a sound tunnel, and I could hear the conversation.
"I'm not sure we should do this anymore. He's been acting funny since Lori left. I can't believe she didn't tell me goodbye. You don't think she knows, do you?"
I could hear his voice, brash and arrogant.