I knew there would be trouble when they walked into the bar.
Not physical, getting somebody's ass whipped trouble, but emotional, I don't want to hear this shit trouble.
Up until a few months ago, I would have considered them friends. Even when things went to hell, if they had just kept their mouths shut they would have been fine.
The ones I found knew about her affair I dropped like a rock, making it very clear they were no longer my friends. Of course, they tried to argue, they didn't want to take sides, they hoped she'd figure out it was destructive behavior, she still loves you, blah, blah, blah, didn't cut it with me and I told they so. It took a couple of meetings and some pretty intense confrontations before they realized I was serious. To this day, if one comes up and tries to talk, I either turn my back or leave. I think they finally got the point.
The few others I still associated with got the point, and made sure they didn't mention her. If they did, by accident, I simply excused myself and left.
It had been six months, the paperwork filed, the statements given, my offer of a fifty fifty split more than fair, and it was almost done.
She was fighting it tooth and nail. We tried arbitration, but they gave up when neither of us would budge. Mostly they talked to her, trying to get her to see she was getting a really good deal.
Then she hit me with counseling. I refused, telling the judge it would be a complete waste of everyone's time and money, because there was no way I'd reconcile. The judge listening to an emotional, borderline hysterical Becky, threatened me with jail, and was shocked when I said all right, just tell me when to turn myself in.
"You're that positive this marriage can't be saved?"
"Beyond the shadow of a doubt, to use a term you'll easily understand. I will not, let me stress that, WILL NOT ever be living with or have a relationship with her for the rest of my life. We have no children. Since this started, we have very few friends in common, my business partner and his wife helped her carry on and conceal the affair, so I'm through with them. Divorcing her will be just a tiny ripple in the big pond of life. Clear enough for you?"
I may have overstated it, and she decided to test my resolve. I spent three weekends in jail before she finally understood I was willing to keep going indefinitely, and dropped counseling.
They were on a mission, you could see it in the eyes of the women. The men just looked uncomfortable.
I knew they weren't there by accident, the bar was in another town twenty five miles away. I told my new favorite bartender I didn't care for the quality of people in my old one.
She was pretty shrewd, in her mid forties, and had pretty much seen it all. She managed to get the story out of me in bits in pieces, usually waiting until I'd had at least four beers. She had been married to the same man for twenty one years. They owned the bar. What I loved most about her was she never offered an opinion, even though I could see she wanted to.
Finally one night I told her to speak her mind, a one time, never to be broached again opportunity, so she'd get over wondering about it.
When we were done, she just looked at me for a little while.
"Obviously, I've only heard your side of the story. It might be fantasy and bullshit, but I don't think so. You were probably right to leave, but you might want to let her give you her side of the story. I'm sure you've wondered how it all went down the tubes. It might do you some good. It might not, it may make you even more angry.
Still, human nature being what it is, it might help you to hear her out. Up to you, end of discussion. The next beer is on me."
God, I loved this woman. A mother figure who'd feed you all the alcohol you wanted, for a price, if you gave her your keys first.
She knew something was up the minute they walked in and she saw my face turn to stone.
"Friends?" she said, nodding to them.
"I don't know," I answered truthfully, "guess I'm abut to find out."
"Don't do anything stupid," she warned, "just give me a look and I'll run them out of here."
It took them ten minutes to work up the nerve to say anything. Todd walked up and stood beside me.
"Hey Jace, how you doing?"
"I'm fine. The family's fine. Everybody is fine. Cut to the chase, Todd. What do you want?"
My little speech, delivered with no emotion, shook him a little.
"Me and the boys," he nodded at his two friends,
"we don't really want to do this. But Becky has them all bummed out crying over what an asshole you're being over something she's sorry about and you won't forgive her for. You remember being married, hell, technically you're still married, and they won't let it go. So we found out where you were, and here we are. Will you talk to them?"
"If I say no? Tell them to cram Becky up their collective asses and leave me the hell alone?"
He colored a little, but kept on.
"It would probably hurt all their feelings, and they'd come after you anyway. Please Jace."
I let him stew for a minute.
"All right. But remember what I told Jeff and Angela? Bob and Gloria? It still applies. I do this, we're through. Don't bother looking me up again, understand?"
I think he got a little angry, like I gave a shit.
"I understand. Man, what a hard ass you've turned into. Now will you talk to them?"
"Yes. Let me ask you something before you go. If it was your wife screwing around, would you let it go?"
He gave me a smirk.
"That'll never happen. She loves me."
"Yeah. Becky said the same thing. Still does. Didn't stop her now, did it?"
He frowned before I continued.
"First, go tell Sandy and George what I said, and then have them come over here and tell me they understand. They might not be as pussywhipped as you are. Then, tell the girls I'll give them ten minutes, no more, so they better be sure about what they say right off the bat, because they'll never get a second chance. I figure I'll have time to enjoy another beer by then."
I turned away, dismissing him. He stood for a second, head hanging, before he went back to the table. I watched in the mirror as their heads jerked up and a heated discussion started. Sandy threw up his hands and walked over to me.
"I've always liked you, Jace. You don't deserve this shit. I'm a little ashamed of the whole thing, and I'm out. I apologize for bothering you. But Tina is determined. We're going to have a long talk on the way home. This is the last time I'm going to put up with her meddling. I guess this is goodbye." He held out his hand. I shook it.
"So long, Sandy. You're one of the good ones. If I ever come back to town, I might look you up. Not Tina, though."
George never really liked me much, so he had no problem.
The women watched me like a hawk. I made them wait a little while, before mentally girding my loins and walking into the lions' den.
I sat, and they started talking. I held up my hand, got out my phone, and set the timer for ten minutes. I could tell it really pissed them off.
"All right, you're on the clock, go."
Tina rolled her eyes.
"Really, Jace, a timer?"
"Nine minutes and forty nine seconds," I said.
They talked over each other for a minute before they realized their mistake and looked at Carrie. Apparently she was to be the spokesperson.
"I know this is really none of our business, but..."
They almost ran when I slammed my hand down hard on the table.
"Finally, somebody understands. You're right, it IS none of your fucking business, and you'd be well served to stay out of it. But you can't resist, can you? You're determined to talk sense into me, because you're our friends, right? Then where the hell were you when she was out screwing someone else? Where was your concern for me then? One word from any of you to either of us would have saved me a lot of grief, we wouldn't even be here now. But looking back, I can't recall you or any of our so called friends ratting her out. Hell, a lot of you gave her alibis. Fuck that. Fuck this. Fuck you. End of rant. Let me reset the timer."
They all sat there stunned before Carrie spoke up. She sounded annoyed.
"Jace, please. It was a mistake. She never meant for it to happen. We didn't know what to say."
"She's miserable. Her parents hardly ever talk to her anymore, her boss has her on probation. She cried when she found out you'd saved her job. I think she's learned her lesson. Time to swallow your stubborn pride and take her back."
I rolled my eyes.
"Time? I'm sorry. I didn't read the Slut Wife Cheating Handbook. I wasn't aware there was a time limit on how long I was allowed to be angry. So now it's okay fine? Kiss kiss, promise promise and we live happily ever after? Not hardly. You know, I'd be a lot calmer if you people wouldn't keep shoving her in my face. Still think you know best for us?"
They actually looked a little guilty before nodding yes.
"You all feel that way?" I looked round the table and they all nodded their heads again. They babbled for a few more seconds before I stopped them.
"Hold on. Let's go off the clock for a second here. Carrie, if you found out George was screwing around on you and all of of us knew and didn't tell you, that it would be all right? Or, if the spouse was found out that they'd eventually be forgiven? You love him that much?"
She frowned but said she would eventually.
"And if the person he was fooling with was someone you knew, a friend even, married to a friend, could you forgive them also?"
.... There is more of this story ...