It's Been a Tough Year

by Laptopwriter

Tags: Fiction,

Desc: Fiction Story: Can their marriage survive when money gets tight or will she look for greener pastures?

Sometimes, when I'm working on a long, in-depth story, I get so engrossed that I need to take a mental hiatus. It's usually during one of these cerebral breaks that I come up a short flash story. "Continental Divide," and "He Said No," are two such stories. This is but another. There is no sex so if that's what floats your boat you'll probably want to take a pass. For the rest of you, I hope you enjoy the read, and as usual, I love to see those comments.

I'll admit it'd been a tough year; not just for Lori, my wife, but all of us.

For sixteen years, I'd worked for Van's Screw and Nut. We made custom fasteners for manufacturers. When a company builds a product they can't just go to the local hardware store to buy screws, everything has to be made to their specifications.

I started out in sales and worked my way up to sales manager. It was a great job and paid very well. If I met all four of my quarterly quotas, which I always did, my year-end bonus would put me well over the hundred-thousand dollar hump. Of course with so many manufacturers going overseas, we had to fight harder to maintain our share of the market but I had built a good, hardworking sales team and we always managed to do better than the year before.

A little over a year ago, all the company big wigs, including me, were called into an unscheduled meeting. We were all very shocked to find out the company's owner was retiring and had been in secret negotiations with a California conglomerate to buy the company. We'd been sold!

The new CEO was introduced and we were all promised our jobs were secure and nothing would change as far as management was concerned. That turned out to be a lie. Within two months, heads started to roll. I saw the handwriting on the wall and started looking for a new job but my time came before I had landed anything. With a pat on the back and a severance check for ten grand in my hand, they led me right out the door.

At first Lori and I weren't too worried, but as the months passed I was starting to realize how the economy had changed during the years I had my cushy job. Not only had a lot of the manufacturing gone overseas, but a number of the domestic firms that were left were buying their fasteners from overseas. I wondered how we stayed as strong as we did, but that was no longer my concern. I had to get a job.

During this time, Lance, our seventeen year old son, was graduating high school. I had mixed emotions when he announced he was joining the military right after commencement. With everything going on in the Middle East, I was afraid for his safety, and of course we both were going to miss him something terrible. On the other hand I was glad we didn't have to pay for college, because frankly, we just didn't have it.

About five months after being let go, it became clear that finding another hundred-thousand dollar job was not going to be easy, so I started setting my sights a little lower. To fill in, what I was sure was a temporary financial gap, Lori started to look for something too. She actually found employment before I did. She was hired as a low level secretary for a software company. It didn't pay much but it was still more than my unemployment check.

A month after Lori started work, I took a sales position with Enright Automotive. They made after-market car parts. For the first couple months I made a token salary while in training. After that I was put on salary plus commission. It was never going to be a high paying job. One guy had been with them for twelve years and was the highest paid salesman there ... he made all of sixty K a year.

You can imagine the strain on our budget. We had gotten used to all the financial trappings of a well-to-do family. We lived in a nice house with a sizable mortgage and had two Cadillacs; only one of which was paid for. That was mine. It was a five year old CTS. Lori drove the same model but we bought hers just a few months before I got laid off. We also had several credit cards, most of which were already maxed out.

Lori and I both missed our evenings out on the town, as well. It was another perk; after-all, if you can't enjoy yourself what's the sense of having money. We used to go out all the time; dinner with friends, sometimes dancing, other times a show, a play, or maybe a concert. It was nothing structured like a regular date night; we just kicked up our heels whenever we felt like it. That was usually two or three times a month-sometimes more.

Unfortunately it was one of the first things that suffered when we had to start scaling back. It seemed to be harder on Lori than on me. Growing up, her family had more money than mine. I didn't start going out and enjoying myself until I started dating in college, but my wife used to go out with her dad and mom all the time; it was practically second nature for her.

We hadn't been out in many months and Lori was starting to complain. As far as she was concerned, the bills could wait. It first started about three months ago...

"Skyler we have GOT to do something. I'm going insane sitting home night after night with nothing to do. I want to go out like we used to. I want to have some fun."

Lori's timing was always bad. I was sitting at the kitchen table going through our bills. Slowly, very slowly we were just starting to dig ourselves out of the hole a little.

I looked up at my beautiful wife. "Sure, no problem," I said sarcastically. "Just tell me which of these bills not to pay."

She just glared at me. I thought for a moment she was going to start yelling but whatever she was thinking, she kept to herself.

As soon as I said what I did, I felt bad. It wasn't really such a horrible request.

"I'm sorry, honey," I apologized. "I promise, it won't always be like this. I haven't stopped looking for a better job; in the meantime, we just have to cool it for a while."

"Cool it?" she snarled. "Skyler we've been cooling it for almost a year now. I feel like a caged animal. I need to get out and enjoy myself."

"I know, honey; I know," I said trying to placate her. "Look, we have a lot to catch up on. Five months ago we missed a house payment and our second car payment. We came this close," I said holding my thumb and index finger about an inch apart, "to having your car repossessed. With this month's commission check we'll be square except for one car payment. If we can keep the grocery bill down, we'll be all caught up in another two months."

I could see Lori's lips tighten. She wasn't a happy camper and I really couldn't blame her. Then I got, what I thought was a great idea.

"I'll tell you what, why don't you and I go to Lincoln Park Zoo this weekend? It's free and we haven't been there since Lance was young."

"Skyler, I don't want to commune with nature, I want to commune with some nightlife," she sneered. "I want to eat and drink and dance until my feet fall off."

"Honey please, hang in there a little longer. I promise, as soon as we get current with all the bills we'll celebrate by going out someplace nice for dinner."

Without another word she turned and went upstairs. I guess I sighed a little to myself. I really did feel bad but this was Chicago, between parking and dinner for two, a night out was going to cost a couple hundred bucks, or more. I was brought up in a household that believed the bills came first. There was no way I could justify blowing that kind of money when we were still behind and barely paying the minimum payment on our credit cards each month.

It took me another ten minutes to finish up. I was going to watch the news but realized Lori was still upstairs so I thought I'd check on her first. When I entered our bedroom she was sitting on the edge of the bed, crying. I really felt like a heel. I sat down next to her, reached around, and pulled her in tight to me. "I'm sorry, babe. I'm doing the best I can," I said leaning my cheek on the top of her head.

"I know," she sniffled. "This has just been such a hard year, and now with Lance gone we could be going for the weekend somewhere. We should be taking little mini vacations; instead we're stuck here. It's almost like being in prison. I thought debtor's prison was abolished," she scoffed.

It's too bad she was looking down when she said that. If she'd been paying attention I'm sure she would have seen the anger in my face. Our house was no prison. Hell, I didn't even want to buy it. I thought it was too big and too expensive, but once she saw it, she just had to have it. Now I'm fighting like hell to keep it and she's calling it a fucking prison. I had a choice; I could either open my mouth and tell her just what I thought of her analogy, or walk away. I chose the latter.

Over the next couple of months, things between Lori and me got even worse. Conversations seemed to be getting shorter and less meaningful. We were spending less and less time in the same room with each other. Love making was becoming less frequent and Lori's participation was decreasing. Her screams of passion became whimpers and the magic was disappearing from the bedroom.

She made no bones about the fact that she was unhappy with me for not taking her out but I couldn't help it. Yes, we both needed a release, I agreed with her, but not until we were at least caught up on our bills. I promised her a night on the town in the near future but it didn't seem to appease her.

Things came to a head on a Friday after work. I came home in an exceptionally good mood. I had just landed a nice contract and with the commission I'd be receiving at the end of the month, I'd finally be able to take my lovely wife out for a good time. Unfortunately I didn't get a chance to tell her about it. She was coming down the stairs dressed to the nine's as I walked in.

"Wow," I said watching her descend. "What's the occasion?"

"I'm going out with some of the girls from work. Don't worry," she said with a sarcastic tone in her voice, "they're paying for everything."

Right off the bat something didn't ring true. I immediately got a bad feeling. As far as I knew, Lori had never cheated on me, but you don't put on the sexiest dress in your closet to go out with the girls. Besides that, my wife was a proud woman; I couldn't imagine her going out and allowing her friends to pay for everything. That would be like taking charity. Only if she was going out with a guy, would she allow someone to pay for the whole night. I felt the hair stand up on the back of my neck.

"Ah huh, and just who are these girls? What are their names?"

She didn't even look concerned with my question. "Just some of the girls from the office, you don't know any of them."

"You didn't answer my question, Lori. I may have been born at night, but I wasn't born last night. You don't dress like that to out with girlfriends. Who are you meeting? Do you have a date with a man?"

"Oh don't be silly," she said nonchalantly. "I told you I was going out with the girls; if you don't believe me I can't help it. You're just paranoid because you have a guilty conscience."

Just then I heard a car horn. I looked outside and saw a cab in our drive. "You're taking a taxi?"

"Yeah, well I intend to enjoy myself tonight. Heaven knows we can't afford a DUI so I thought it would be the smart thing to do."

"I suppose the girls are paying for that, too," I angrily asked.

"As a matter of fact, yes-they are." She leaned over and gave me a quick peck on the cheek. "I have some leftovers from last night in the fridge. You can heat them up in the microwave. I may be pretty late so don't worry about waiting up." And with those parting words, she was out the door.

I watched to see if anyone else was in the car but from what I could see as she slid into the back seat, she was alone.

For a little while, I went into denial. Sure, I knew Lori was angry but I just couldn't believe my wife would actually go out with another man. Hell, we had a son together-a life together. She wouldn't cheat on me, I told myself. There was just no way.

I pulled the leftovers from the fridge and stuck them in the microwave but as my meal was warming up, so was I. I wanted so much to believe she was just out having a good time with some friends from work, but come on...

I went over to the computer and looked up the number for the taxi service. When the dispatcher answered the phone I told him I wanted the destination of the cab that just left my house, then gave him my address. I wasn't sure what privacy issues they would have but the guy on the other end of the line had no problem giving me the information; Plato's Place, 3560 Elmhurst Rd.

I knew the place. In fact Lori and I had gone there on a couple of occasions. It was a romantic restaurant with an attached bar that had plenty of dimly lit corners; not the kind of place a woman goes to have fun with her girlfriends, more like the kind of place a guy takes a woman to seduce her.

By the time the buzzer rang indicating my dinner was ready, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach the size of a softball. I thought husbands and wives were supposed to pull together when the going got rough, not betray each other. Hell, I thought, maybe I'll just go to Plato's Place for dinner, myself.

The place had two entrances, one for the lounge, one for the restaurant. If I went in through the lounge I didn't have to deal with a hostess. I wasn't interested in a drink so I walked right passed the bar and into the dining room. A quick scan of the place revealed my wife sitting at a table with another man. She had her back to me but there was no doubt it was her. They were both talking over a plate of appetizers and a bottle of wine was already sitting next to the table.

I could feel my blood coming to a boil. I fixed my eyes on the bastard who was trying to bed my wife and started my approach with an aggressive stride. I was still a few feet away when Mr. Slick must have sensed something. He stopped in mid-sentence and looked up. Our eyes met and he suddenly looked nervous. I was just a couple feet away when Lori glanced over her shoulder to see what her paramour was looking at.

"Skyler!" she shrieked. "What are you doing here?"

"I came to meet your girlfriends," I said with venom. "Who's the asshole?"

"Hey," he said, starting to stand up.

"Go ahead ... give me an excuse," I threatened. "You know damn well she's married. I guess that doesn't mean anything to you though, does it. Tell me, do you leave a trail of slime behind you when you walk?"

He looked like he wasn't sure what he should do. He was still half standing and half sitting when my wife chimed in.

"Skyler, please, don't make a scene. This is Jerry. I work with him. Since you're too stingy to take me out, he volunteered. He was just trying to be nice."

"Nice, my ass," I growled. "He's just trying to get into your pants." I looked at Jerry again. I guess he decided he didn't want to try me because he sat back down. "If you attempt anything with my wife again, so help me I'll drag you through town on a rope tied to the bumper of my car.

"Come on, your evening is over," I told my wife.

She hesitated just for a second, but like Jerry, she decided not to test me any further. "I'm sorry about this," she said to Mr. Cool while standing.

I think every eye in the place was on us as I took her by the arm and escorted her out through the front door. Not one word was spoken in the car, not by either of us. Once we got into the house; however, it was a different matter.

"What the hell was that all about, Lori, tell me. Have you suddenly decided that I'm not worthy to be your husband anymore?"

"No, of course not. I just wanted to get out of the house and have some fun for a change."

"Who is this, Jerry? How long have you guys been seeing each other?" I asked getting more and more angry by the minute.

"He's just someone I work with, and we haven't been seeing each other. We've had lunch together a couple of times, that's all. I mentioned that we don't go out any more like we used and told him I miss it. He offered to take me out for dinner and some dancing and I took him up on it ... so shoot me," she stated derisively.

"I don't believe this," I said almost shell-shocked. "I thought our marriage was stronger than this. We have some tough times and you're ready to bail on me?"

"Who said anything about bailing? I work every day now, too. I deserve to be able to enjoy myself once in a while. If you won't take me out why should I turn down someone who will?"

"Because you're my wife, damn it!" I said raising my voice. "That's why! We're supposed to be a damn team."

She didn't say anything to that, but from the look on her face, I could tell she was scoffing at my words.

"Is this what I have to look forward too; being married to someone I can't trust? Am I going to have to worry who you're with or what you're doing when you're out of my sight? Tell me, what were your plans for the end of the night? Did you intend to sleep with him?"

"Of course not," she abruptly answered.

I looked at the woman I had been married to for almost twenty years, and for the first time, I didn't trust her ... not one little bit.

"I don't believe you," I said. "You lied to me when you said you going out with girlfriends and you didn't even seem very concerned that I didn't believe you then; why should I believe you now? I'll admit, it's been a tough year, but a wife is supposed to stick by her husband. Remember what we said to each other at the altar, 'for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health.'" In that instant my thoughts were clear as a bell. "Our marriage is over," I declared.

This time her scoff was verbal. "Don't be silly," she said dismissively. "We're broke, remember. You can't afford a lawyer, how're you going to get a divorce? Hell, you can't even afford to move out."

I wished I could have come back with a clever retort, but to tell you the truth, I was too stunned. I guess some people are just no good at dealing with adversity. She had obviously stopped loving me ... and stopped respecting me. After nineteen years, my marriage was over just that quick. I would have probably broken down and cried but I was too damned angry. Without saying another word, I went upstairs and started to pack a suitcase.

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