Long After the Game
Chapter 1

Caution: This Drama Sex Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Consensual, Heterosexual, Fiction, Humor, Oral Sex, Anal Sex,

Desc: Drama Sex Story: Chapter 1 - The sequel to Live from the Game - whatever did happen to Ryan and Deanna?

Hey. How's it going? Been a while yeah? Lets see, it's nineteen months, two weeks and four days since "The Event". Simon and I call this time P.E. – Post Event. The event, of course, being the rather public disintegration of my marriage, when I used the TV Jumbotron at Wrigley Field to call out my cheating wife, Deanna and her lover.

In case you forgot, I am Ryan. I have three kids, one of whom is adopted, and an ex wife –the afore-mentioned Deanna – and I live in the suburbs of Chicago. I used to live in Crystal Lake, but now ... wait. Getting ahead of myself. I do that.

So let's see. What's changed since The Event? Lots of stuff. Divorced – obviously. I don't live in Crystal Lake any more. After the divorce I was awarded custody of the kids – Deanna didn't have a stable enough job or earn enough, and I had the house and the stable job, so it just made sense. The judge – a crusty old bird with bi-focals that made her eyes seem huge on her face – was not a happy camper when everything that happened came out. I could see her going purple when the part about them being on the jumbotron came out –, even though it couldn't be proved it was me, courtesy of my hacker friend, Solomon -, staring at me with anger in her eyes. She was obviously one of those "the wife gets everything" judges, but in this case the facts were clear and there wasn't much she could do about that, despite her natural inclinations.

In the end, I got custody, which meant Deanna owed me child support. I owed her alimony and it worked out to a wash, so she went her way and I went mine. We had an agreement on the house, so that if I sold it, she got half, and I'd be stuck with the mortgage payments in the meantime. Not thrilled about that, but that's the law and thems the breaks.

At the end of it all, I think it worked out as well as a situation like this was ever going to. I'd not started this, I'd just finished it and I didn't see why my life had to disintegrate any more than it already had because she'd decided to go get some strange. Emotionally, that was a different matter. I was a bit of a wreck for a while, but when you have to get up, get the kids to school and be Mom AND Dad at the same time, well, you suck it up and get on with it, don't you? That's what being a parent is. God knows what waking up everyday and not being next to her kids did to Deanna. But then, don't do the crime if you can't do the time. My sympathy is somewhat muted, you know?

I did end up moving – to Naperville. It was more about not making the mortgage payments that she'd capitalize on if I sold the house than anything else –, see, even though Deanna was no longer contributing to the mortgage (not that she did much anyway), it meant that I'd have to pay it alone, but she'd still get half of the entire value of what I'd put into the house when I sold it. It's not a very fair situation I thought. I could pump another hundred grand into the house, and she'd get fifty of it, when it sold, despite not contributing at all -, although the memories in there didn't help.

There were days when I woke up and expected to see Deanna making coffee and then the realization would come that that wasn't going to happen - and my day would start in a shitty fashion. It's weird to be both glad she's not there and yet missing her desperately at the same time. It's like being both hot and cold at the same moment. – having one feeling would inevitably lead to another. Hard to explain unless you've been there.

Speaking of Deanna, I did my best to stay away from her and not be around when she came to pick up the kids. We've had some contact; you can't be a co-parent without any. It's mostly done via text or mercifully brief email. We've had to have some physical conversations about the kids; Paula went through a brief shoplifting phase and we had to get together to work out a shared strategy of addressing it. We had dinner and it was awkward. It was awkward because we just fell right back into being partners in terms of the kids, but there was the underlying tension of us being exes there too. At least there was for me. We didn't talk about The Event – but at least she's stopped trying to apologize to me, thank god. Strangely, she's never asked for forgiveness. I don't think it's because she doesn't want it, I think it's just assumed. Either way, I'm not going there. She can if she wants, but for me, I just want to move on.

After I kicked her out, she sent me a video of her in therapy, trying to understand why she did what she did. At the end of it she said that she was coming for me; that it wasn't over and she was going to get me back. I had even written a text to her that, drunk and stupid, I sent. It asked her "Ok, what would you do to make it up to me?" I was genuinely curious about what her answer would be, but the only answer I got was one word – "Anything". And then nothing more. That was months ago – over a year in fact - and it's never been brought up again. I'm certainly not going to talk about it. She was the one who said she was coming for me; let her make any moves. I'm just trying to get on with life.

I gave her pretty much unrestricted access to the kids – it seemed only fair because she hadn't cheated on them, just me, and she was a great mom. I'd already fucked with their lives enough when I threw their mother out and it didn't seem like a good idea to compound it. She had one or more of the kids almost every weekend, and sometimes Paula during the week too. It was all about as civil and good as it really was ever going to be, with us maneuvering around each other.

So we moved to Naperville. When I sold the house, I was extremely surprised to find that its value had almost doubled, even in these times. Both Deanna and I made $85k on the deal, so when we moved, I rented a house, paid two years up front and then sat back to wonder what to do next.

Oh job, right, yes. Sorry, the job. As you know, I was a VP at Dresdin, a company that makes high end bespoke furniture. Paul was kicked upstairs a while back and the board hired some one else for the job, one Mark Higley. He's a nice enough fella, great hair, but also pretty clueless, and he has that fatal flaw that because he was hired, he really believed he was the right man for the job, even though he had zero experience of the business or knowledge of the people working for him. Ostensibly, my job was to manage the sales group, but I basically ran the place while the Much-Loved-But-Complete-Idiot-In-Charge sat in his office, making plans to end humanity. Or whatever it was he got up to in there. He'd give me grandiose commands, I'd say 'Sure thing' and then ignore it and get the company working, like I did with Paul.

Six months in, Higley summons me to his office, says casually, "I've noticed you seem to be involved in lots of areas of the business that Sales shouldn't really be in. The other department heads don't seem to be as responsible for their business as they should be, so I've sent round a memo indicating that they need to pull their socks up a bit sharpish. You won't be bothered by them any more, which should free up some of your time."

Now I'm not an idiot - well, not completely. My wife cheated on me for weeks and I had no clue, so obviously I'm not the sharpest knife in the drawer at times. But I knew what this was. This was a control situation and he was exercising his position and authority over me. I knew that if I went to the board, they'd have to support his position, since they'd hired him in the first place. The sly wink that had happened when he was hired – when they'd increased my salary by 30%, so it was larger than the new CEO's – was not actually going to be followed through by any more increase in responsibility; they were just happy someone's hand was on the tiller.

Now that hand was going to be Mark Higley's, not mine. He'd had six months to learn from me, and this was the first act in operation Push Ryan Back Down. I just sat there, nodded, didn't say much, went back to my office and had my resignation letter written by lunch.

I went back to his office, handed it his secretary, who knew exactly what it was, then headed back to my office to start emptying it. I was done and out of the building by 1:30. By 2pm I had two phone calls from board members trying to keep me around – phone calls I gently but firmly ignored. And by 3:30pm I was comfortably buzzed. I'd gone to the The Cottage, just off the main street of Crystal Lake. By 4:00pm pretty much the entire crew from Dresdin was there, having a drink, trying to talk me out of it, and basically abandoning the company for the afternoon. I heard later, from Paul, that the board had an emergency meeting that night to determine what to do based on this event, and voted four to six to fire Mark Higley and appoint me. But he had enough friends on that board –that or my hair wasn't good enough - and so it fizzled out.

Honestly, while I'd given my all to that company, walking out didn't faze me that much. When they gave the CEO job to someone else, my loyalty was basically broken, and I'd been thinking about what else I'd do anyway. After the crap with Deanna went down, I only had the kids to think about, and while I did bury myself in the job, I also found that the joy of it was gone. I wanted to do something else; I just didn't have a clue what.

Now I had no choice. So off to Naperville we went, for a reboot – as Solomon would say – and that's where we live now.

Solomon came back into town a couple of times, and hung out with Simon and we shot the shit. He seems the same, still socially inept, still a genius. He's moved on from drinking as an experimental experience, to sex, apparently. He's discovered it and now his research moves in that direction. I have no idea how he is finding women to nail, given his ability to piss off someone within thirty seconds of meeting them, - I did idly wonder if he was cloning them; it seemed like something he'd do – but he seems happy enough.

Oh, one other thing that happened I should mention. Once the whole story had come out, I actually had a couple of Hollywoody agenty people contact me, looking to buy the story for some movie of the week. I was flown out to Hollywood and wined and dined for a week, by this married couple of producers. They were nice people but damn, you wanted to hate them. He was this perfect specimen of man hood and she looked like a 1940's dame, from one of those war movies with Ingrid Bergman. It was also revolting how into each other they were. Constant handholding and looks and touches and stuff. At dinner they sat there, feeding each other, and forgot I was there at all. It was all too disgusting for words. A good relationship should be full of sarcasm and rudeness and thoughtlessness and arguments. Not googly eyes and puppy dog stuff. I kept waiting for some suitably saccharin music track to play over the top of them making out, or the world to suddenly go into soft focus. Apparently they'd made some movie about a fat guy getting thin or something and were the flavor of the month, and their production company was looking for new stories to churn out on the Lifetime channel, or some such. Honestly, I wasn't listening that much, as I was trying to celebrity spot without being too obvious about it. Paula about shat her self when she found out I was going to be in Hollywood, and put on a weeklong campaign that she had to go with me. When I dropped them off with Deanna, she was one pissed off teenager. But I brought her back some swag and promised that if I went again, I'd take her.

They took me to a party, in the Hollywood Hills, and I had a moment there where I truly got to see what Hollywood was. I was standing on the balcony, looking out over this unbelievable view of LA that you could not stop looking at, and some young hottie came up next to me, made some general conversation, then just asked flat out if I was a producer, since she'd seen me talking to the couple that brought me out. I told her I wasn't anybody, and she just looked at me, smiled and said 'I need to go see who else is here.' And that was that. I wasn't somebody, so I was unworthy of conversation.

The next day I signed on the dotted line, let them have the story, got a check for just south of a hundred and fifty grand, smiled a lot and left. Nothing happened with it – I was told later it was in 'turnaround' – whatever that means. I'm informed it's where TV shows go to die. Someone has bought it, but no one wants to make it. Apparently it's very common and I'm totally ok with that. I didn't really need to humiliate Deanna any more than I already had, so it never going on the screen was A-OK with me. I got paid anyway. Funny thing though – the name of the production company was on the check and I really don't know what to make of it. Heinz the Cat Productions. Hollywood people, I ask you.

Anyway, apart from that, the only other thing that happened that's worthy of reporting is my new gig. I kind of fell into it. I'd vaguely decided I wanted to do something in the mobile / web area. Watching Paula with her phone and iPad, I noticed how much time she spends glued to it, and I figured I didn't want to work for anyone else, so I'd try making an app or something. I bought a laptop and hung out at a local shared desk co-op group, where you just roll in every day, sit with your laptop and work. They have conference rooms you can sign up for and lots of resources, but the most important one is access to all the smart kids who work there day in and day out. I just sat there with my laptop, watching them, looking at what they were doing and wondering if there was an opportunity there.

Eventually I met these two guys – both older than most of the other kids, but smart, very smart. They were named Deke Simpson and Kevin Byall. Deke was the Programmer and Kevin was half coder and half designer. Not quite Solomon smart, but then I also didn't want to kill them after talking to them for twenty minutes, so that was a good start. They wanted to make a game – they had it all planned out but it was very apparent very quickly that neither of these two knew shit about scheduling or actually making something happen. It was like they were very conversant with the nuts and bolts, but had no idea what order to put them together in. They were typical geeks; knew their area inside and out, but in terms of anything else, forget it. And My God, they could talk. Within an hour of meeting them, I knew that Kevin was a part time sculptor, and also an erotic storywriter, as a hobby. Deke wrote screenplays and taught Aikido classes. They just never stopped with the flow of information. I could barely get a word in edgeways.

Anyway, they needed a backer to pay for art on this game and stuff, and I stepped up. I ended up with a contract with them, where I'd fund and run the new company, and they would actually create this game they'd pitched; a mobile version of a card game based around a pantheon of gods. We rented office space, I spent more time with Jonathan Bruty, my lawyer friend, wrote up legal stuff, and we started development. I got a crash course in what video games are, an education in how they are made and it was off to the races.

Speaking of Jonathan, I should mention I've grown a lot closer to him. He turned out to be a much nicer human being than I gave him credit for. He reached out to me, made sure I had a place to go for holidays, or when Deanna had the kids. His wife – who I had dated before any of us where married – was also nice to me. It was nice to have new friends that weren't in any way 'our' friends, if you know what I mean. They could say things about Deanna and not have to qualify them because they'd see her at some point. They weren't her friends, and would never run into her.

I've dated some, but honestly, it was a disaster each time. I tried online dating, and some of the women were quite nice, but each seemed to have her own baggage. As an ex sales person, I'm pretty good at reading what people are telling you they want from body language, posture and tone – and most importantly, what they don't say -, and some of these women were definitely looking for something. One was totally upfront and said she was looking for a new dad for her kids, and was 'willing to make it worth his while, too'. I don't think that's really a great place to start a relationship and said so and she was mortally offended. Aww shucks.

To be brutally honest, I was just not really been that interested. I had trust issues, and the damage that Deanna's fling did to my ego and self-image was still there. I knew it, and while I even went to see Jim, the therapist that Deanna had seen, it didn't really help me that much. He was hard to talk to, multiplied by the fact that I knew he knew every thing Deanna had told him. I saw him three or four times, but nothing really changed for me, so I stopped going.

One of the things I did notice was that when I did go on a date, I had very little patience. If she said something dumb, or did something stupid, like flick her hair or fish for a compliment, I just got internally angry. I did actually talk to that therapist guy about that on one of my few visits – it took me a while to understand I was unconsciously comparing these new women to Deanna and that worried me. I wanted her out of my life; I didn't want to still be in love with her, if that's what it meant.

Jim told me that it was natural that I was using Deanna as a measuring stick. I'd been with her for years, and she'd been a huge part of my life. It wasn't so much that this meant I was still in love with her, more that I didn't have any other kind of comparison I could make. So I compared them to her, or more to the point, to my life with her. And the trouble was, until The Event I thought I had it pretty damn good. An almost perfect married life. The standards I were using were very high and it's unlikely I would find someone that would measure up; I'd have to go on a lot of dates to find that person who would fit what I was apparently looking for, which was a Deanna replacement. Worse still, there really was no way to judge what a long term life with someone would be like, apart from doing it. You just can't judge from the initial impression people try to give you on a date. People are remarkably guarded and present only the best of themselves on a date, I'd learned. You don't find out that someone is a slob or will wear the same panties for a week, until you are practically living with them.

What Jim said did make sense, and it was reassuring to me that I wasn't still desperately in love with Deanna. Or maybe I was, but this wasn't a manifestation of it. Or maybe it was. Hell, I'm damned if I knew any more. I was just trying to get through the day most days.

So I also stopped trying to date. I figured if true love was going to strike again, it would, whether I was looking for it or not. Better to concentrate on the new business and the kids. Which is all just elaborate justification for the fact that I was demoralized, had self-image issues and couldn't take any more rejection, even when I was doing the rejecting.

So there I was; I hadn't really heard much from Deanna besides the contact we needed to have for the kids, despite all her protestations that she was 'coming for me', life was rolling on, we saw the first alpha build of the game – most of the art missing, but the game functional - and I was excited about that.

And then everything changed and shit happened. Unbeknownst to me, across town, in the sunny hamlet of Schaumburg (believe me, that's sarcasm), my life was being planned out for me.

Deanna banged her hand on the coffee table and made some of the coffee cups jump.

"Ladies! Attention! The time has come."

The four other women arranged around the coffee table, stopped talking, and turned to Deanna, who was perched on the end of the long couch. One of them leaned forward and said, "Oh, you are so forceful dear." Sarcasm dripped from her voice.

Deanna threw her a fast frown along with the visual equivalent of a single raised finger and cleared her throat.

"Right. It's time. I got the all clear from Jim this week. Operation Ryan is now in effect."

One of the other women picked up her cup and said, "You sure? Jim said it was all good?"

"Well, he didn't say it in so many words, no," replied Deanna, "but he did say I was ready to move on with my life and that we'd talked out most of what we could talk about. That I should be making plans and 'getting on with it'. I choose to take that as a blessing on my attempt to get Ryan back."

"It's not really a blessing though, is it?" the other woman shot back. Deanna sent another four-letter look at her.

"Look, you gonna help or what? Making smart-ass comments is not helping."

"Oh of course, dear. Just want to be sure that we are all the same page. You've been in therapy for a long time, trying to understand what you did and why. It's been a complicated journey. Frankly, when you petitioned to join our little group here, I was of two minds about you coming in. You obviously had baggage. But I think everyone needs a chance to get their shit together. I just want to be sure that before we embark on manipulating someone's life, we are doing it for the right reasons."

"It's not like that Gina. I'm not manipulating any body. I'm just trying to give Ryan reasons to give me another chance. I'm not the same person any more, who ... did what I did. I need Ryan to look at me again, and to give me the chance to prove I can be trustworthy. That I can be the wife he needs me to be. It's not about manipulation. It's about getting that chance."

Gina sat back, the frown on her face evident. Gina was tall, athletic shaped, with arms that had obviously seen the inside of a gym. She was even wearing those comfortably tight work out clothes that seem so fashionable. The rest of the women couldn't decide if it was because she was truly off to the gym later, or because they were form fitting and displayed her fairly awesome body in very obvious ways. Gina could be abrasive, in your face, but she had a heart larger than her head, or even her boobs. She never shrank from saying what she thought, but she'd give you the shirt off her back if you needed it. If you could peel it off first. And washed it, because it was probably sweaty.

The women sitting round the table flicked their eyes at each other. They'd all sat in that spot and made similar pleas at one point in their lives, and they remembered their own desperation.

"Fine. We are all here for you Deanna. What's your plan?" said another of the women.

"Thank you Rhonda. Ok, so here's the deal. When I sent Ryan that video, he texted me and asked what I could possibly do to overcome the breach we had. I replied 'Anything', but honestly, that was the issue. I didn't know what I could do – and it wasn't fair to just ask him. He obviously didn't know either, or he wouldn't have sent me the text he did. So I have to come up with things I can do that will make Ryan open his heart to me again. I know that trust is something that comes over time, but you do actually have to be there for that trust to grow again. And right now, I'm not. What I need is the chance to show him I've changed. I need him to know I am willing to do anything. So, ladies, how do I do that?"

Rhonda sat back and glanced at the women next to her and said, "Mae, what do you think?"

Rhonda was blond – the kind of thin long blond hair that always needed a hairclip in it. She was average height, average weight, looked good in a sundress, as she was currently wearing. The most outstanding aspect of Rhonda was her accent – Rhonda was Finnish, hailing from Helsinki. She also tended to be blunt, and was, as a typical Finlander, very unconcerned with nudity and most the other taboos of North America. She had a twinkle in her eye, and was one of those women that tended to be disregarded, until she said something absolutely outrageous, in an innocent fashion, forcing you to re-evaluate her.

The older woman, Mae, pursed her lips, sucked in air through them and then said, "Well, I get where you are coming from, but this won't be easy. You need him to look at you in a different way, but also the same way. Your relationship has to be totally new but based on some of the same things you had in the past. You need to remind him of why you were so good together, without reminding him of why it ended. You can't ignore it, but it you can't lead with it either. It's a conundrum, that's for sure."

Mae was older, in her sixties. She looked good and could pass for fifty, in the right light. She'd let her hair go grey naturally, but on her it just looked good, rather than old. She dressed elegantly, and there was obviously some money behind her. Not ostentatious money, just that she had a nice Michael Kors handbag, a nice Skagen watch – all the subtle indicators of class and money without throwing it in other people's faces. She was also partially Texan, with a very slight southern states lilt to her voice.

"I have some ideas I want to pass by you guys, see what you think. But I want to wait for this secret weapon to arrive. See what's that's all about, ya know?" she said, easily.

The doorbell went and Deanna put down her coffee and went to answer it, saying, "That'll be it now!"

She opened the door to reveal a middle aged man, dressed in a suit and tie. He had sandy hair – a full head of it – and he was carrying a bottle. He smiled broadly at Deanna and proffered her the bottle.

"Oh! So nice! Thanks. We won't need it – teetotal for the operational planning – but the gesture is very sweet," said Deanna, taking the bottle and looking at it.

"Ah," said the man, hesitantly, "I didn't know if we'd need to bash it over the edge of the ship, so to speak."

Deanna laughed, and waved him in. "Come and meet the girls."

The man followed her in, closing the door behind her.

"Girls. This is the secret weapon I mentioned!" Deanna said in an excited tone, as she re-entered the room.

All the women sat silently, staring at the newcomer. Mae even put her coffee down. No one said a word – the women stared at the man and the man stared back, and the tension built.

Finally, realizing that the other women weren't as excited as she was, Deanna said, "Oh come on. He's just a guy. It's not like he's going to kill us and lick our bones."

Mae chuckled and suddenly the tension evaporated.

"Trey, these are the girls. That's Mae right there. This is Rhonda, that's Gina. As I said at lunch the other day, this is the Cracked Hearts Club. Girls, this is Trey Morrison. Trey and I dated a bit, but it didn't go anywhere, and now he's a confidante." She overly pronounced Con-fee-don-t, in an elaborate fashion.

Mae was watching Trey's eyes when she said that and saw them very slightly narrow, and filed that away for future discussion.

Trey tilted his head and said, "Ladies."

He then turned to Deanna and said, "I didn't honestly think you were completely serious? These ladies are going to help you get your husband back? How on earth did you guys come to hang out?"

Deanna rolled her lips, in the manner of one who is embarrassed by what they were about to say. "I found them on Craigslist."

Trey looked at all the women and then at Deanna and said, "Seriously?"

"Sure. Why not? The fact is, I was in therapy, my therapist suggested I find a support group. I was thinking of a book club or something, but I found this ad that said 'We help cheaters out of their holes.' I wrote an email, and a year ago got accepted as part of the group. We help each other out, do a sort of twelve-step program, advise each other, that sort of thing. And drink a lot of coffee. Every woman here screwed up her marriage by cheating and getting caught, so there's a lot of empathy and understanding here."

"And these ladies are going to help you?"

"Yes. They all know my story. Well, everyone knows the story – Ryan made sure of that. They all know what I want to do, and they are all willing to help – to be my Greek chorus, so to speak."

"And I'm here... ?"

"For the male perspective. Look, let me get you a coffee, and then you can sit down and I'll explain it all to you."

Deanna busied herself off in the small kitchenette of the apartment she rented, off Roselle Road in Schaumburg. If she stood on tiptoe, she had a view of the Medieval Times dinner theater castle across I-90 from her complex.

When she came back in, Trey was perched on the arm of her couch, politely fielding questions from the group.

" ... and that's what I do. It's not very exciting, but everyone needs insurance."

"Here's to that!" said Rhonda, raising her coffee cup in toast.

"Here you go, Trey," said Deanna, passing over the steaming cup, "white and no sugar, right?"

Trey smiled his acceptance.

"Right, since we are all here, we can begin," said Deanna, settling into the couch.

"I'll recap for Trey's benefit. He already knows the back-story, what happened, what I did, what Ryan did. We've met a few times and he knows most of this. What he doesn't know is what I plan to do next."

Deanna took a deep breath and launched into it. "Basically, I've been working on a plan. Something that will get Ryan to take me back. I've been waiting till my therapist gave me the all clear, but I've had it in mind the entire time. So here goes. I'm going to do a bunch of things, to try to get Ryan to give me a chance. Each of the ladies here is suggesting a course of action, and I'm going to do them all. We are going to tackle Ryan from every direction, to get him to understand how much I need him, and how much he – and the kids – need me."

Trey sat back, digesting this. Eventually he said, "And will he know this is a planned, concerted effort?"

Deanna glanced around at the other women, who looked back at her. "I hadn't really thought about it. I don't know..."

Trey interrupted, "Because if he finds out and you weren't up front with him, this is over before it's begun. This is all a trust issue here. You've betrayed his trust and now you need to rebuild it. I doubt whatever you have in mind will do that, but if there is any hint of anything held back from him, it's done. The only way this has the barest way of succeeding is with total honesty. You being honest doesn't mean he'll run, just that he'll know this is a planned play."

"It makes sense Deanna," interjected Gina. "I mean, now that he's said it, it makes total sense. We should have seen that. Hell, you should have seen that. You know the guy."

Deanna's face had clouded for a second, then she smiled mischievously. "Secret Weapon, see? I know what I'm doing. It's not a big deal, to tell him. I mean, task number one is ... actually, why don't you guys go around and tell Trey what we've agreed the plan is? Gina? You want to start?"

Gina smiled, "Ok, so each of us came up with something that Deanna needs to do. For me, it's simple. She has to give Ryan her journals."

Trey looked enquiringly at Deanna, then Gina.

"Most of the time, when you go for therapy for this kind of thing, the therapist recommends you keep a journal. It helps you formalize your thoughts, and also gives you a record of how far you've come in understanding yourself and your actions. You are encouraged to re-read them every year or so. It's basically a record of the journey you've undertaken. And it's extremely personal – you write down every feeling you have, why you think you had it, and so on. It's really ... very personal. But I figure that giving that to Ryan will help him understand the path that Deanna has set herself on, here, to get him back. All the things she's done to understand herself, understand what she did, her emotional state and so on. It gives Ryan the emotional backdrop to understand why Deanna is so dead set on getting him back.

"Plus, it frames their next meetings. Instead of Deanna pushing him to meet and talk, he'll do it himself. Inevitably he'll have questions based on what he reads – assuming he reads it – and that'll prompt the conversation, rather than Deanna desperately explaining herself yet again."

Trey nodded, giving the facial expression of a down turned mouth that you do if you are finding something plausible, from a point of view you've not seen before.

"I get it. Fair enough. What next?"

"Mae?" said Deanna.

Mae shifted in her seat and then said, "Well, I'm the family oriented girl. Well, we all are, but for me, family is everything. I'm telling Deanna that she has to convince Ryan to give her a weekend, with the kids. To pretend they are a family again, to act as though it never happened. Just a weekend, where they do family things and have dinner and go to the zoo and the movies. Like a regular family would. To show Ryan it can happen. That it can be the same. It's a hell of an ask but I think, done right, it would remind him of what has been lost."


Rhonda smiled. "I'm the resident sex addict. So, my task is in the bedroom. Deanna needs to give Ryan the night – or weekend – of his life. Something he could never get anywhere else. Something that makes it obvious that she wants to give him something fantastic. We are going to send them away to Vegas, where Deanna is going to put on a show for him, and keep his dick hard for the whole weekend. Sorry for being crude, but that's effectively what I'm recommending. You can't have a relationship without sex, and she needs to wipe the memories he has clean and replace them with better ones."

Trey shook his head and said, "They are going to have to be pretty damn amazing ones to replace the last images he has of you having sex with that other guy. Frankly, I don't see it. But stranger things have happened, I guess."

"So, what about me? Do I get a task beyond 'being the token male.'?" Asked Trey, plaintively.

"So, we need to help out Ryan's fledgling business somehow. We know – and we aren't going to go into precisely how we know, although my daughter features in that situation – that Ryan has built a start up and is developing some game on smart phones. We know it's costing everything he's got and it's a hell of a risk, so we need to help. Firstly, we'll be handling PR for the company, without them knowing it. And secondly, I'm going to be his girl Friday for a couple of weeks. I'm taking a break from the conference work I'm doing and basically going to be his front desk, HR, office manager, everything we can think of. I'm going to be full on, working for free, with Ryan every day. The whole point is to get Ryan to be aware of everything I can do for him that is not family or sex related. What a true partner can help with. He already knows; we had it for years, but he needs to be reminded. And I could really use some help with that. I've not been in an actual office in years, and to be totally honest, I didn't pay that much attention when I was. Think you could help there?"

There was silence for a moment. Everyone looked at Trey expectantly.

"Well, that all seems very interesting," said Trey, still digesting. "I can probably help. Is that it?"

"No, there is one more task, at the end, that I've come up with. But it'll have to remain confidential right now. I don't know if I can bring it off, and I don't want to spoil it if I can. So, given what you've heard, what do you think? What does your male intuition say about it all? What pointers can you give us?"

There was silence for a moment while all the women stared at Trey.

"Wellllll ... Ok, well, I can only really go off of what I think of these ideas. I don't have his history, I don't know him and I don't know his emotional state. I can only really talk in broad terms, as a guy, rather than the specific guy in this situation. But having said that, some things do occur.

"So the journals thing. That's a good idea. It's a good start. But you'd better prime him on some of the things he's going to discover about you. I would imagine there is nothing worse than settling down for a good read, with a beer, to get inside your ex-wife's head, and finding she despised your little cock, or your baldhead, or whatever it is here that caused this. If there is shit that is going to cause him consternation, he needs to know that ahead of time."

The girls all sat there, nodding approvingly.

"Good call," said Gina.

"Incidentally, how do you know he's not out there, throwing his oats around? Or got someone new that he's dating? That would seem to put a bit of a crimp in your plans?"

"Nope. Single and not dating. My sources are infallible on that point," Deanna instantly jumped in. Trey just looked at her.

"We have kids together. My teenage daughter doesn't miss a thing. If he were dating, she'd know, and she'd say something. She couldn't not, not my little blabbermouth."

Trey just nodded.

"So, you need to give him time to read these and digest them. He needs to come back to you with questions. It might take a while; I doubt he'll instantly sit down and read them once you give them to him. I know I wouldn't; it would take the right state of mind."

There was more nodding from the group.

"See girls? Told you. Secret Weapon," gushed Deanna.

Trey took a sip of coffee and barely managed to disguise the look on his face as he did so. Rhonda noticed and had to contain a smile. She glanced at Gina who met her eyes. Deanna's coffee was legendary in how bad it was. They kept trying to suggest someone bring Starbucks, "so Deanna didn't have to try", but Deanna was dead set on being the complete hostess. So they had to grin and bear it. Trey had just joined the august club of those people subjected to the worst burnt coffee in the world. They were all one now.

Trey carefully put the coffee down, wondering how he could avoid drinking any more of it.

"The family thing. I think that would be great, but I think it's going to be strained. It's just not going to be the same. I get where you are coming from, but I think it would take all weekend just to get to the point of where he's relaxed enough to actually enjoy the time, if he gets there at all. But, given the angle of attack that you've chosen, I can't figure out how to make this work any better than the suggestion you've already given. Maybe make it a three-day weekend? Give yourself more time? Oh wait, what you need is an event. Something that can only be done as a family. Thanksgiving or something? Emphasize the family aspect.

"The sex thing, well, like I said, good idea, but hard to really make work. You need to make damn sure he's dosed up with Viagra or whatever, because if he fails to perform – and I'll put money that that's a distinct possibility – then the whole project is done. If he can't get over the images in his head, he will fail, and if he does, you are done. You simply cannot let him fail.

"Thinking about it further, are you guys really aware of the damage Deanna did? I mean, I'm sure you've been to therapy and all, and the therapist has walked you through it, but all of you guys are the ones who handed it out. And you aren't male. You have no idea of what he feels, what he's trying to overcome. He'll be feeling vulnerable, frustrated, angry at you at strange times. He's overcoming a blow to his ego that you just can't comprehend. It's an attack at a place where no man has a defense. If you said shit about his cock being smaller than your lovers, well, there is nothing he can do about that. And you can't ignore it or lie about it either. What you have to do with the sex thing is show him that he really does it for you – without faking it. You fake it and it's done – and that you actively want what he does for you. That only he can do for you. That it's the best thing, and no one else can do it. And you can only do that with love. He may not be the greatest fucker – sorry ladies, I have to use the real words here – but you have to convince him that he does it for you. Without, as I said, faking or using any bullshit. And that's on top of getting him to climb into bed with you in the first place. Remember, you are tainted goods to him, although, if you've not been screwing other guys, and you say so in your journals, that will help there."

Trey looked expectantly at Deanna, who looked right back, and said, "I'm shocked you need to ask."

Trey just maintained his stare and eventually said evenly, "Well, you did fuck around on him."

Deanna recoiled and Mae stood up. "That was uncalled for," she said, sharply.

"You don't think he's not going to think that? That he's not going to say things like that? And worse?" challenged Trey to Mae.

Deanna had recovered and stared back at Trey, eyes blazing. "No, I haven't fucked around. I tried dating a bit – like you – but it didn't work. I did have a couple of guys in my bed, but I actually kicked them out before we went too far, when I realized all they wanted was my ass."

Deanna was aggressive and in his face – obviously angry.

Trey pursed his lips and said, "And is that how you are going to react when Ryan says these things?"

There was a sudden silence as the group digested that. Trey visibly relaxed his body so his body language was non-threatening, and Deanna had a dawning realization of the likely complexity of the task she had set herself.

Deanna looked away from Trey and bit her lip. She whispered, "Sorry, Trey"

Trey said, in the kindest tone he could manage, "Look Deanna, I'm pretty sure this little plan of yours looks good and sounds good. It sounds to me that you've been concentrating on this for months. Well, I don't think it's all going to go as smoothly as you think. I think it's a hell of an undertaking. But, if you've got your heart set on it, then ok. I'll help. But my help might be given in a way that you aren't expecting. You've got you heart set on something, to the point where I don't think you are completely understanding of all the dynamics involved. But, I'm here. I'll help. I don't think it's going to work, but I'm in."

"Why won't it work?" asked Rhonda, directly.

"Well, there are so many factors here. What you did, what he did to get back at you. I mean, come on, you have to be really pissed off at someone to do what trick with the Jumbotron. The time between when you last really were with him in a family way. The fact is, he could easily have moved on since then, if only mentally. He may just not want you around, bringing up bad memories. So many potential issues."

Trey was thoughtful for a moment, and without thinking took another sip of coffee, instantly regretting it.

"Although, the strength of his response to your ... activities, well, it denotes high passion, either way. He really loved you. He had to, to react so strongly," he said, thoughtfully.

There was more silence for a moment, and then Rhonda chuckled and said, "Where the hell were you when I needed you???" and everyone smiled.

Deanna got up from the couch, went over to Trey and hugged him. She had tears in her eyes and said, "Just from listening to you in the past five minutes, I don't think we could do this without your input. You are probably the difference between this working and not. Thank you Trey. You are a good man."

Trey was evidently uncomfortable and gave Deanna a bland smile.

Deanna stood up. "Ok girls, to work! We have plans to make! More coffee, anyone?"

So it came to pass that about a week later, I got a text from Deanna. It said, "Can we meet for dinner? Need to talk to you."

I sat there, staring at it off and on for almost an hour. I was out with Simon – his latest love of the moment was cooking. Some how he'd persuaded the bar we were in – walls covered in TV's, of course - to switch over to Top Chef and I was squirming with embarrassment, because he was just sitting there loving it and completely oblivious to the stares of the sports fans. I, however, was not. I met the steel gaze of certain other individuals in the bar and either shrugged apologetically, or looked away.

I kept coming back to the text. What did it mean? What did she want to say that we hadn't already said? Was there something up with the kids? Maybe she had met someone, or was moving away. Or maybe she had a disease. Or cancer! Or maybe she'd won the lottery! I wonder if she'd give me any of the money, if she did? Oh. There goes that shiny object tendency again. One day I really must do something about that. Now, a nice Jaguar. I could be happy in one of those. I wonder how much they really cost? There I go, letting my mind wander again. Have I mentioned I do that a lot?

Eventually, of course, it dawned on me that there was a pretty easy way to find out what she wanted. I texted her back "OK. Concerning?"

I got one back saying "Us," which at least removed the concern about the kids or health or money, sadly. I had an inkling that this would be interesting, or at least informative, if I could keep my cool and keep my emotional distance, so I showed Simon and said, "What do you think?"

He looked at the texts and looked at me, and drank a big old quaff of beer – incidentally, what is a quaff? Is it different from 'sucking it down'? Can you quaff other things? How big is a quaff? What differentiates it from just chugging? Enquiring minds want to know. OH! There goes that distraction thing again. Man, I gotta do something about that. Seriously. One day.

Simon put down his beer and said, "Interesting. What ya gonna do?"

I looked at him and said, "I was asking you that."

"Well," he replied, "Polly says you should stay as far away from her as possible. 'Don't let that she devil get her hooks into you again' were her words I think."

Polly was Simon's long-suffering wife. Petite, a firecracker and resigned to living with what was effectively a 42 year old 10 year old. But she loved him – he totally lucked out with her. Oh, she loved him. She had to, to stick around.

Our relationship was great. I gave her shit, she handed it back, and everything was golden. She made no bones about her opinions; they were given to you with no apologies. You either accepted them or you did not. I always did; it seemed safer all around. I'd leave visiting them with the same number of limbs I started out with, that way.

"Yeah," I said, considering, "trouble is, she IS the mother of my kids. Easier to say than to really apply in a practical manner though. But I think I can handle this. It's been almost two years now."

Simon nodded, looked at me for a second – and I could tell he was in two minds to say something – and then just said, "Yeah. You gotta go."

And then someone did something amazing with a cheeseball or something and his attention was back on the stupid cooking show.

So instead of doing it all by text, I took a chance. I got up and wandered outside of the bar – being grateful it wasn't raining; this is Chicago, after all - and called her.

"Hello Ryan," she answered, "I didn't think you'd call."

I could hear the TV in the background. Unless I missed my guess, it was an episode of the Big Bang Theory. Sheldon was describing the rules to Rock, Paper, Scissor, Lizard, Spock.

"Might as well, otherwise it takes forever to go back and forth. What do you need Deanna?"

"Dinner, with you," she said, simply. I should have guessed what was up just from that statement alone.

"Is there something up? Something we need to talk about?" I asked, curiously.

"Sort of. Look, it's easier to do in person. The phone is too ... impersonal. Can we meet?"

"Oh, yeah, I guess so. How does Thursday work? Paula is home and can watch the other two that night. Outback? In Schaumburg? I can come to you."

"Sure, that works. 7?"

"Yeah, that's fine."

There was an awkward silence. We'd both run out of things to say at this point. In the end, I broke the silence.

"Well, I'll see you then, then," I said, then broke the connection.

I put the phone away – I'd learned my lesson about leaving it out, finally. The most recent event had been when I'd left my phone out and twitter logged in and discovered that while I'd been in the bathroom, I had my phone number posted, along with an invitation for anyone to text me the dirtiest sentence they could think of. Since text notes showed up on the main screen of my phone, having those suddenly appear when in the middle of a meeting was embarrassing to the nth degree. Simon always asked innocently if I'd 'gotten any new suggestions recently'. At some point I'm going to have to get him back. I went back inside, wondering what was so pressing. She was probably going to get married or something. Wanted to tell me in person.

--Boy, was I ever wrong. Well, not about her wanting to get married. Just who to.

Thursday arrived, as it is wont to do. I had a meeting in Des Plaines that day, talking to an artist we'd found. We, – Deke, Kevin and I, - were trying to decide if this guy was good enough to be our art director – create the style the game would use, like cartoony, gritty, 8 bit (yeah, I'd had a huge crash course in the past months. I now knew what '8 bit' meant when talking about graphics and music) – or whether he was just going to be good enough to farm out some pre-defined art needs. I took the guys with me, since they were better able to judge than I was.

They seemed satisfied that he was competent, but still wanted to see other artists' work before making a decision. At some point I was going to have to force them into a decision, because time is money and we were wasting some, I felt.

They went back to the office once we were done, and I headed over to Schaumburg, to the Outback on Golf road. Traffic was horrendous, but I got there with ten minutes to spare. Luckily I'd called ahead and got call ahead seating, so when Deanna arrived, I already was already at a table.

She looked good. I could tell she was trying. Her hair was perfect, the make up, just so. I even noticed she was wearing her engagement ring, just on the other hand. That was a nice touch, if a little ominous. I began to seriously wonder what this was about.

She sat down and did the usual, "You look good," "How are things" etc. I didn't honestly know how much of my situation she knew – she knew we'd moved, obviously, and she knew where I was living since she picked up the kids. I wasn't sure how much she knew about my new career, but I figured Paula or Saffron had mentioned it. Jamie was beside himself over it all – he was a video game-aholic, and was chomping at the bit to be involved and see the game we were making. One of them must have talked about it. I didn't bother going down the path of "I want nothing spoken about me to your mother" to the kids because, well, what's the point? They aren't going to do it anyway. They'll mention stuff; better not to put the pressure on them to try and keep it all silent and then be mad at themselves if they accidentally blabbed.

The waitress arrived, we ordered drinks and dinner and then we just sat there, looking at each other. She seemed to be searching my face for something – what, I've no idea. I looked at her searchingly, and she suddenly shook her head and smiled and said, "Yes, we should talk. Or I should talk. There are things to say. Can I ask that you ... let me finish? I have a lot to go through and a question to ask and I need to just blurt it all out, without interruption. If you ask questions, we'll go off topic and I'll never finish it."

I was a little taken aback by that, but ok, what the hell. I had nothing to lose.

"Sure. I promise to shut up til you are done. I have experience with that." I knew at the moment those words left my lips that it was a mistake. Apparently the bitterness on my part was not done. Deanna pulled back and her face clouded, but then she smiled in a brittle fashion and said, "I guess I deserved that."

"I'm sorry," I said, getting it in before she continued. "That was ... inappropriate. I'll try and do better, but, you gotta understand where I am coming from here. Please, continue."

She nodded and I could see her pull herself back to business.

"Ok, well, you remember I told you I wouldn't let you go? That I'd be back in your life? That I'd mount a campaign to get you back?"

I nodded. Nothing else to say.

"Well, yeah. You haven't heard from me much over the last few months. I've been in therapy – you know the guy, Jim Vonnie. I know you've seen him a few times yourself"

I nodded again. Nothing for me to add to that, either.

"It's been a long hard slog for me to understand myself. I don't even think we got all the cobwebs out, but we did have a good airing in the corners. I think I know what happened now ... no, that's not why we are here..."

She could see me shift uncomfortably. I honestly didn't want to revisit this right now, not being blind-sided.

"That's a conversation for another day. No, today is about me telling you I'm ready. I'm finally in a place where I can start getting you back."

There was silence for a second while I digested that, and the waitress brought our drinks and appetizers. We ate for a bit, and I could see as she ate how nervous Deanna was. She disguised it well, but you can't live with someone for fifteen years and not pick up on mannerisms. She ate with small bites, but fast, like she wanted to get it over with.

"What ma..." I started, and Deanna instantly raised her hand and went, "Nuh hu."

I fell silent and smiled at that. She used to do that all the time when we were married – If I tried again, I'd get it again, and she'd interrupt me constantly saying "Nuh uh" with that look that says "No, Shut up!" For the first time, I started to wonder at my own feelings. I had a wave of nostalgia and desire for times past and that was a first in the past few months. More food for thought later.

She pushed away her Shrimp on the Barbie and smiled at me. "Where were we? Oh yes. You and me again. Look, I told you I would be coming for you, and I am. I wanted you to know that. There are other things I need you to know. I don't know if I apologized to you ... properly. From the depth of my heart. I treated you so badly and you did nothing to deserve it. I am so, so sorry for causing the hurt in you. The things you must have thought about yourself that simply were never true. I just ... well."

She stopped and took another drink, gulping down the beer, avoiding looking at me.

Once her control was re-established, she said, "I have never asked you for forgiveness though. You may have noticed that. That's not because I don't want it, or I don't feel I need it; it's because I don't think I deserve it. What I did was unforgivable, and you should not forgive me, at least not easily. I need more penance than that. But what I do need from you is a chance."

I blinked at that, and was about to say something when the hand went up again. I looked at it, and decided to keep quiet.

"Look, I know I blew away any and all trust you had in me. I know that. And I know that trust is hard to earn and easy to destroy, and I also know that without a chance to rebuild it, I'm dead in the water. I want, no, I need an opportunity to prove to you that I am worthy of the risk of rebuilding trust between us. I know you don't have to give it to me. But I need to ask. Wait!" she said, as I drew breath again. I really needed to stick to my promise.

"The thing is, and I've been thinking a lot about this, and you'll see that in a bit, and your point in that text about what would I do to fix this, make it up to you, is something that's been on my mind. I mean, the immediate response to that is for me to ask 'what do you want me to do?' but that's a copout and puts all the responsibility for determining what would fix this on your shoulders. I've done enough of that, and it would just be more shit that's not fair, so your question to me really was what got this ball rolling. I have to come up with ideas to show you I'm worthy of a chance. Not you, but me. I made this happen, this is my responsibility. I recognize that."

She stopped to take a breath and glance at me, looking at my expression. Whatever she saw there, it was enough for her to plow on.

"Now, there's more. First, I have been meeting with a bunch of friends, who've been in the same situation as I have. We've been ... supporting each other. Making suggestions and things. I have a plan here. I want to do something, and I need your permission and your cooperation – enthusiastic or not – to prove to you that I should be given another chance. I'm not asking you to just blindly do that. I want to do some things that are designed to show you why you should give me the chance to rebuild our lives together. It'll only be a few weekends, and I guarantee you, you won't regret it."

She blurted out that last line and then sat there, frozen, looking at me with a desperate longing, searching my face for what I was thinking.

I sat there, stunned. And the steaks arrived. I ate mine mechanically. I'm sure it tasted good but I really have no recollection of it. Of all the things she could have said, I wasn't expecting this.

I had no idea how to react to this. There was no sudden influx of feeling, one way or another. Nothing to guide me as to what I really wanted. Half way through the steak I put my fork down and said, "So, let me reiterate what you said, so I can be sure I understood it" – it's a common tactic that sales people do in order to be sure they've got an order right. She nodded, chewing on her steak.

"You want me to put aside my feelings about what happened, and allow you several weekends so you can, what, make it up to me? Make me understand how much you love me? Try and reignite that?"

"No, that's not it. Well, it would be great if that happened, but I think we both know there is too much damage for that to be realistic. No, what I want is to persuade you that I'm worth taking a risk on. Do you remember when we first started dating?" she said, suddenly changing direction.

I nodded dumbly since it seemed the thing to do.

"You remember how hard you worked to get me to go out with you? After that ridiculous night at the CroBar when we met? I remember telling you that us dating would not happen."

"Well, you were living with that idiot bar keeper at the time. The one that you were taking phone calls for, from women he was chatting up in the bar. I have no idea why you were still there," I said. "I never understood that, but whatever."

"It doesn't really matter why I was still there Ryan. What matters is that you were tenacious. You wouldn't give up. You kept at me, asking me out and sending me flowers and things until I gave in. You kept at it to make me understand you were worth it. That, in a nutshell, is what I want to do here. If it helps, try and imagine that we never knew each other before. That I'm interested in you and I want to show you why we could be good together."

"Well, that's easy to say, but fifteen years Deanna. What happened. I mean come on..."

She sighed and said, "Ryan, I'm trying my best here. I'm grabbing at straws. Work with me."

I ate some more steak, thinking hard. Did I want to do this? Did I not? What did I feel towards Deanna now? I thought I knew, but this evening had been ... confusing. I thought fast, but unfortunately, I ate faster. So I did what I always do in these situations. I fudged.

I finished the last bit of my steak and looked at Deanna. She hadn't eaten another bite and was just staring anxiously at me. "Come on Ryan. Give me a clue here. Cut me some slack," she said.

I rubbed my hands and face with the napkin, stretching it out. Petty, I know. Sue me.

I threw down the napkin and said, coolly "Well, that certainly is a lot to lay on me, Deanna. Not entirely sure what I think yet, to be honest. I'll give you this. It's not a yes, but it's not a no either. Let me think about it and get back to you, ok?"

She bit her lip. She'd evidently wanted a yes right there and then, but at least she wasn't getting a no.

"I guess I'll have to be happy with that then." She was evidently disappointed. "You do understand what a huge risk this is for me, Ryan? Reaching out like this? I know you could shut me down instantly, but I've been working towards this and I just want you to know why. I honestly need you. I need what you are, who you are, you are – or were – my partner, my friend, my lover. You and the kids were my everything. I can't give that up. I just can't. I need you in my life."

I just looked at her, and she could see me doing my best to restrain myself from saying anything hasty. I took a deep breath and said, "I understand. But you've got to understand where I am coming from. As you said, I did nothing wrong, but I'm paying for what you did every fuckin' day."

I hadn't meant to swear, but it just came out. She looked away.

"Deanna, I truly have no idea what I feel right now. I came, I listened, don't push it too hard, ok? Give me some time to think about it." For some reason I reached out and took her hand and squeezed it.

"I understand this must have been hard. I've just been in a very ... single person place, and I'm only now starting to come to terms with it. The kids are great, but you know how it is when holidays come around. We aren't a complete family and I'm sure it's worse for you, so you'll know what I'm talking about. I need to think about how this would impact me if said 'Sure' and, god forbid, it worked. Or didn't. It's a hell of an ask, and you know it. But I'm not dismissing it out of hand, ok? Be happy with that for now."

Deanna looked back and squeezed my hand back. I could see a tear in her eye. And I also suddenly realized that, besides the kids, this was the first time a woman had touched me in over three months. And it was nice.


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