This is a sideline from the Live from the Game universe. I quite like the concept of the little cheaters support group, and I wanted to flesh it out a bit.
Don’t worry, Ryan is going to get one more story, which I’ve got sketched out now.
In the meantime, here, enjoy this. There’s no real point to it – no real conclusion. It’s just background to who the women are, and why they do what they do. I was interested in who they were, so I wrote this.
Kudo’s once again to NoneTheWiser for the editing and, for once, not suggesting a better title than I came up with. Even though I didn’t really come up with it – it was suggested by a reader in the comments somewhere...
Mae put down her steaming hot chocolate and got up to answer the door. She was a little slower than normal and winced slightly at the dull pain in her hip. She was no spring chicken anymore and age was slowly becoming more of a problem to her.
She tried to put more of a spring in her step as she walked to the front door, feeling that the more motion she put in her walk, the better it would feel. Like so many things in her more recent life, it was a case of ‘fake it till you make it’. Recent events had made that difficult – she had a lot on her mind – but she had to put that aside for today and provide support for someone who needed her full attention.
She could see the figures of two people through the frosted glass on her door. She opened the door, a welcoming smile on her face, as she’d been taught a good hostess should.
“Hello there,” she said, with genuine pleasure at the sight of her visitors. It was cold in Buffalo Grove, the town in the northern Chicago suburbs where she lived – cold enough to see your breath. She had a house set in the rustic area, just off the main street - close enough so she could walk to the small tourist trap ‘ye olde’ buildings, not that she ever did. She’d lived there for almost seven years, becoming a fixture in the town, having moved there after her “troubles” in the southern Illinois town of Champaign / Urbana.
The two women on her doorstep said their hello’s, breath frosting from the chill in the air, obviously wanting to come in from the cold.
“Come in, come in, it’s freezing out. Winter’s early this year,” she said, moving back and shooing her guests into the warm house.
The two women came in, knowing the way. They’d been there before, many times.
In the great room, with it’s vaulted ceilings, lined with large pine beams, a fire danced in the hearth. There were two easy chairs and a love sofa arranged around the fireplace, which was a half circle with a hood over it, somewhat like the circular fireplaces you see in ski lodges.
There were pictures of family on the wall, nick knacks of a life lived on shelves, a wall mounted TV above the fireplace and in the corner, in front of firmly closed French windows, stood a baby grand piano in sparkling white enamel, with yet more pictures arranged carefully on top of the lacquer. There was even a grandfather clock against one wall, keeping accurate time.
The two visitors shrugged off their coats and scarves, placing them carefully on a coat tree that had been placed by the door for just such occurrences.
“Hey Mae. How are you? Cold enough for you? asked the first, a tall brunette with lush chestnut hair, that draped and curled around her shoulders. Gina Stipe was of western European stock. Tall, willowy, with thin but taut limbs. She was wearing black slacks, Ugg boots and a thin white blouse, with a long thick cardigan over the top. Gina was the epitome of modern fashion and worked hard to maintain her slim 5’10” body. She was no stranger to the inside of a gym and worked out a lot.
Mae rolled her eyes.
“Why is that the first thing anyone says the moment we get a cold snap?” she demanded, a slight southern twang to her voice. “Everyone always goes ‘cold enough for ya?’ and it’s very irritating. Yes, it’s cold. We can all feel that.”
Mae did her best impression of a Chicago accent and the two women exchanged smiles. Mae was in one of her moods again.
“I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it Mae. It’s just a greeting,” the second woman, Rhonda Ranta intoned, with mock solemnity. Rhonda was also tall, but slightly shorter than Gina at about 5’8” but she made up for it in with the high heels she invariably wore. Rhonda had short blond hair, clear pale skin and was the living embodiment of Scandinavian beauty. She had a very distinct accent, sometimes missing out words from her sentences when she was excited or rushed, despite having lived in the United States for over thirteen years.
Today she was dressed for the elements. Thick tights, leather boots with three-inch heels, and a long knitted dress, complete with built in scarf, attached via Velcro at the neck.
One interesting difference was that Gina was perfectly made up – just the right amount of foundation, blusher and eye makeup, whereas Rhonda had no makeup at all. And both looked good.
Gina looked around and then enquired of Mae, “She’s not here yet, then?”
Mae moved over to the easy chair closest the door and shook her head as she sat down. “Not yet. I did say anytime after 4, so I would imagine it won’t be long.”
She gestured at the tea and coffee laid out on the coffee table and said, “Help your selves, ladies.”
Rhonda sighed and said, “So we do it again, yes? Open old wounds yet again?”
“That’s what we do,” said Gina, sharply. “You know it’s good for our souls. And those who seek us out need to know we are the same as them. As good, or as bad, as they are. They need to feel comfortable. It’s the only way to get them to open up, so we can give them the support they need. Besides, telling the stories is cathartic. Each time I do, I find some new dimension. I explore it a little more. Probe that wobbly tooth with the tongue once again, and one day, fingers crossed, the damn thing will come out.”
Rhonda gazed back at Gina and sighed again. “I know, I know ... I just sometimes feel like ... I don’t know. Like it’s just making me feel worse. Reliving it again. It makes it almost harder to move on, you know?”
“Well Rhonda, nobody is making you come back. I’d say that when you are ready to move on, you probably won’t need us any more. The fact that you are still here...” Mae spread one of her hands, the other holding her still steaming hot chocolate.
Rhonda gave an exasperated half smile, a desultory shrug and turned her attention to pouring herself coffee.
There was an uncomfortable silence for a moment, as Mae stared into the distance, and Gina and Rhonda helped themselves to coffee. Gina caught Rhonda’s eye and gave her a slightly embarrassed look.
They settled themselves on the couch for a moment, each took a sip and then Gina said, “So, did anyone see The Good Wife last night?”
Rhonda wrinkled her frown. “God, we must be desperate to be talking about that load of crap. Good coffee Mae,” she said, nodding at Mae.
Mae smiled back, faintly, still far away in her mind.
“But then it couldn’t be any worse than that god awful stuff Deanna used to make? Remember that?” said Rhonda, making puke motions with her finger in her mouth.
Rhonda chuckled, “Yeah, that was pretty bad, wasn’t it?”
The doorbell tinkled, and all three looked expectantly in that direction.
“Well,” said Mae, putting down her hot chocolate, “I imagine I need to be the hostess with the most-est.”
She left to answer the door, leaving Gina and Rhonda.
“I wish Deanna was still here,” said Gina wistfully.
“Well, she has her life, Rhonda. She moved on. We still see her every now and then, but she doesn’t need us any more. Trey saw to that.”
“And Ryan,” muttered Rhonda, under her breath. She was still slightly annoyed that all their planning and scheming had not resulted in the desired conclusion (See the Events of Long After the Game – Ed).
Then Mae came bustling back into the room, leading a young woman, who couldn’t have been more than thirty. She was blond from a bottle, with dark roots starting to show through her hair. She was fair skinned, with slight redness around her eyes and nose that indicates she’d been out in the cold too much. Or crying too much. Or both.
She was wearing a light summer coat over a stretched knee length one-piece wool wrap around dress, and was obviously cold.
“ ... and these are the girls. That’s Rhonda, and Gina...” Mae was saying and she led the new arrival into the room.
“You look cold dear. Gina, be a dear and get Brooklyn a coffee? She needs warming up. It is Brooklyn, isn’t it? Do you prefer Brooke?”
Brooklyn was looking around, sizing up the room and trying not to be too obvious in sizing up the other two women.
“What? Oh yeah, Brooke, Brooklyn, Brie, whatever really. I answer to it all. Just not ‘Hey, Slut’. I got enough of that from Josh.”
“Here, sit down in front of the fire dear. Sugar? Milk?”
Brooklyn sank into the loveseat at right angles to the couch, and looked up gratefully at Gina, who handed her a coffee after pouring it from the delicate china tea set on the coffee table.
“No, black please.”
“Like you like your men?” said Rhonda, attempting levity and instantly realizing it was the worst possible thing to say.
“Oh don’t mind her, dear. She thinks she’s funny. We don’t have the heart to point out she’s not,” replied Mae, smoothly, taking in Brooklyn’s pained expression.
“Sorry,” said Rhonda, “not thinking. Jitters. New person, you know how it is.”
Brooklyn held her gaze for a moment, and they could see the internal fight or flight struggle. In the end, fight won, and she said simply, “It’s fine,” delivered in a voice that said it might have been fine, but don’t do it again, or you’ll get your ass kicked. Fine, as all men have learned, is a code word for women. It actually means “totally not fine, but I’m going along with it and don’t do it again.” The word makes men shudder. For a smaller woman, it was obvious Brooklyn wouldn’t take a lot of crap.
“So, Brooke. We kinda have a standard way to break the ice here. I know you are hurting – we’ve all been there and can emphasize. We know you need support, or you wouldn’t have reached out. Don’t worry about talking much in this meeting. We are here more for us to bare our souls to you, than the other way around. We want you to know this is a safe place, and the only way we can do that is to tell you our stories. So you know you are among friends.”
Brooklyn looked at Gina and smiled tentatively. “That sounds ... good, I guess. I dunno. I’m all mixed up right now. I fucked up so much and I just don’t know what to do. He barely talk’s to me; it’s mostly his shark lawyer, who just licks his lips every time I try and get him to pass Josh a message ... I can’t tell if he wants into my panties or is just relishing the pain I’m in. We’ve ... never gotten along. He’s a weasel.”
Gina sat up, on the edge of the couch and reached out a hand and put it on Brooklyn’s arm.
“It’s ok. We’ve been where you are. It gets better. Slowly, but it does.”
“I think, my dear, another thing we should point out is that we aren’t a man bashing group. We aren’t a coven of bitter women who think all men are bad. As I said on the phone, we are here to support each other, and try and get our lives back on track. We’ve all made mistakes, and we make no bones about that. This isn’t a place to justify what we did. If that’s what you need, you need to move along. We are about recognizing the mistakes we’ve made, and trying to accept them, or as the parlance of today has it, we ‘own them’ – and then move on, not making it all someone else’s fault,” Mae said, entering the conversation.
“Yeah,” said Rhonda, nodding her head to Mae’s comment, “Yeah, we have to accept our own culpability. There might have been mitigating circumstances, but we need to deal with those individually. We’ve all fucked up and part of what this little group is about is accepting that and helping each other move on. Like a 12 step program, except without all those annoying steps. No higher power making me twitch, that’s for damn sure.”
“So ... I just don’t know what to do right now. I’ve been served, I’m living in this shitty one bedroom apartment. I’ve seen the kids four times since it all went down, and the only lawyer I can afford is seriously gross. Josh has said he’ll treat me ok in the divorce. But I don’t want a divorce, and he won’t even talk to me seriously. We talk but it doesn’t take long to deteriorate into name calling...” Brooklyn sniffled at the end of her statement, getting more and more upset as she went on.
“It’s ok ... don’t worry Brook, we are here to help. We won’t help you get revenge or try to rape your husband financially, but you aren’t alone. We’ve been through what you’re going through, and we will be there for you.”
“ ... why?” sniffled Brooklyn looking from woman to woman, genuine curiosity warring across her face with self pity, “Why would you do that? You don’t know me? You don’t know what I did. What I’m still doing...” The last sentence was a positive wail.
Rhonda and Gina glanced at each other, a little uneasily. Trying to explain why they did what they did was hard. It was painful for each of the women there.
“Well, if you want to give us an idea of why you are here? You don’t have to go into details...” started Rhonda.
“NO. It’s fine. I can do that. I can talk about it. I ... need to talk about it. None of my family want to hear it, and god knows, Josh doesn’t.”
“Are you sure dear?” asked Mae, gently, sitting up and leaning forward. “We really don’t want to put you on the spot.”
“No, it’s ok. It’ll be hard, but I think I need to do this. To explain it all,” Brooklyn said, giving Mae a small but grateful smile.
“Well, ok, the floor is yours Brooklyn. Stop whenever you need to,” said Mae, sweeping her hand out and gesturing to the room in general.
“OK, well, I’m Brooklyn. Brooklyn Stone. Well, I was. I guess I’m going to be Brooklyn Hall again soon. Ohh...” Brooke went silent for a few moments, contemplating that. None of the other women spoke, giving her time to settle down. The grandfather clock ticked loudly in the background.
Brooklyn looked up, suddenly realizing she’d just stopped talking.
“Anyway, I am ... was ... am, for now I guess ... married to Josh Stone. I’m thirty-two – I know, I look young. I always have. Josh is thirty-five. I come from here, born and bred in Orland Park, down south. Josh is also a Chicago native. Irish, from way back. Big family, brothers and sisters, you know how it is. One brother is a cop, another two are firemen, Josh is a kind of financial consultant. He doesn’t do actual trading, he used to, but the stress was too much. Now he’s a strategic consultant. Advises companies on trading strategies and stuff. He’s working with a small software group in his spare time to write some kind of auto trader thing, for iPhones, or something. I don’t know exactly.”
Brooklyn shook her head, as though annoyed she didn’t remember something.
“Anyway, I’m a paralegal. I work for an entertainment law firm downtown. I was going to be lawyer, but the cost to pass the bar, plus the hours ... well, I didn’t want to sacrifice my life, you know? We have been married eight years. We have two children, Tara and Adrian. Awesome kids. I know everyone says that, but mine ... well they really are.”
Brooklyn smiled to herself, and then opened the photo app on her phone and found the “Kids” folder.
“Here, see,” she said, handing her phone to Gina. Gina couldn’t help noticing Brooklyn’s hand was trembling.
Gina took a look, with Rhonda leaning over, and made the appropriate noises that people do in those situations. She then handed the phone to Rhonda, who passed it to Mae, who did the same.
“So... ?” prompted Gina, slowly, handing Brooke her phone back.
“Oh right, yes,” said Brooklyn, “Well, it was good, you know? A good marriage. Josh was awesome. We met at a church social. I mean, neither one of us is particularly religious. I was only there delivering cakes with my sister – she’s a pastry chef – and he was there as part of the Big Brothers of America group. I mean, that’s Josh, big boy scout and savior of the world. Well, lost causes, anyway. It was one of those ‘love at first sight’ things, you know?” Brooklyn spoke wistfully, staring into the past.
Gina smirked at Rhonda. Both knew exactly what she was talking about.
“We just talked for hours, and did the phone number thing. He insisted on taking a picture of himself on my phone, to attach to the contact number he added. And then insisted I did the same.
“Anyway, you know how it goes. Dates. Movies. Flowers. Meals. Hot evenings. Romance. The whole nine yards. If it there was a romantic gesture, he did it. He even got his dog to deliver the ring to me when he proposed. My family just loved him. And I think his liked me. Well, part of it did, that’s for sure. Too much...”
The last two words were said sotto voice. Gina and Rhonda glanced at each other again, and Gina risked a quick look at Mae, who was watching Brooklyn steadily. They were getting to the meat of the matter obviously, and it didn’t take a brain surgeon to see where it was going.
“We had years of it being just great. Josh was attentive; he was good in bed, no complaints there. I’ve ... had my share of men. I know what’s good and what is not, and he’s never had any complaints from me. The kids are great. We don’t argue that much. We have a nice house in Schaumburg, just far enough from the family to not have them on our doorstep, you know? But close enough so we can visit easily when we want. Things are ... well were, great. Which makes what I did even more stupid. I had an affair with his brother, Michael. For three months. I don’t even know how it started. We were at a barbeque, we had all had a few beers, there was a some stupid flirting. I mean, we all flirt a bit. Not much, just some ... it’s like what his family does, and I just fired right back. Got to stand up for myself, you know?
“Some how I ended up in a bathroom with Michael’s dick in my mouth. I still don’t know exactly how it happened. I wasn’t drugged, I wasn’t too drunk to know what I was doing, it was just like I was outside myself, you know? I look back and I can’t for the life of me see what I was thinking, what I was feeling. It was just there, the flirting got more serious and some how, there I was. I still really have no idea why.”
Gina and Rhonda exchanged a glance, while Mae kept her attention on Brooklyn. It was a familiar story.
“And it was ... well, it was good. You know? Exciting. Mysterious. Wrong. Naughty. I don’t know. It was just ... fun. I was outside myself, almost. Doing things I knew I shouldn’t be.
“Anyway, we did it. I couldn’t help myself, it was like THE most important thing right then, to get that dick in my mouth and shower lust on it. He came in my mouth. I didn’t swallow, and spit it out into the toilet. Suddenly it was the WORST thing I could be doing. It was like a switch was thrown. I couldn’t even look at him and after he pulled up his pants, I pushed him out the door.”
Brooklyn stopped talking, looking at the other women, at their reactions, the fear of judgment evident in her face.
“You don’t have to go into details, my dear,” said Mae, gently. “We don’t need the details if you aren’t comfortable.”
Rhonda and Gina remembered their first time meeting the group. They’d taken a while to get the details out, where Brooklyn obviously suffered from no compunction about going into grisly detail. It was obviously part of who she was, no shying away from the detailed truth with this girl.
“I couldn’t even look at Josh for the rest of the party. And as for having sex with him ... forget it! I couldn’t do that to him. I felt like all he had to do was look at me and he’d see what I did. He’d know. But he didn’t. He did wonder what was up since I was so quiet and restless, but he just said he’d give me space, and he’d be there when I wanted to talk. I mean, yeah. Boy scout, like I said. Talk to him. Yeah, like I was about to do that.
“I spent a week getting over what I did. Trying to understand it. I vowed I’d never be alone in the same room as Michael again. I wasn’t in love with him, or overcome with attraction. It was more an interest in what we did, than the man himself, you know?”
She looked anxiously around at the other women, and Gina and Rhonda shared another glance, this time with a tight smile that indicated, that yes, they knew exactly what she meant.
Gina said, softly, “Yeah,” and Rhonda just nodded.
Mae patted Brooklyn’s hand and said, “I think we all understand, Brooklyn. We understand too well. We get it.”
Brooklyn took a deep breath and continued, “Well, my resolve lasted two weeks. Then, when Josh was out at some evening meeting, Michael showed up. I didn’t even want to let him in, but he said he had to borrow one of Josh’s tools, so I kind of had to. The kids were both at friends’ houses. And within three minutes of him being there, he had his fingers jammed in my pussy. And what’s worse...” the last came out as a sob, “I wanted him to. The moment I opened the door, I knew what he was there for, and I just got wet at the thought.”
“He got me off twice, with just his fingers. I was on fire. Then he fucked me, roughly, across the couch. Josh could have walked in at any moment, and some how, that made it even more exciting. I was gushing. I don’t know, I barely looked Michael in the eye. He kept saying things like, ‘take it, bitch’ and all the rest of it, and I didn’t even try and stop him.
“And that’s how it started. I didn’t have to worry about contraception, I have an implant in my arm,” she raised her arm and indicated a small area under the tricep, “that lasts for three years. And so, Michael would just show up on occasion when he knew Josh would not be around, and the kids were occupied. And we’d fuck. We wouldn’t talk much – we never even mentioned Josh or the kids, or his fiancée. They were just topics we never mentioned. We both knew this was like a release thing, you know? There was no love.
“We even had his fiancée and him to dinner, and when they were there, there were no longing looks. Nothing to indicate that we had any other kind of relationship. I was just his toy. His plaything. And he was mine.
“I mean, I felt guilty, but it’s like it was just in part of my mind. I still functioned like the same wife I’d always been. There were times when I turned Josh down, just because I knew I was sore or enlarged, but most of the time I didn’t. And I made sure I was douched and clean for him. I initiated it a few times, in a romantic way. I needed to be sure I still loved my husband and I did. I do. It was no different. If anything, it was better because I had the lack of love from Michael to compare against. Josh was tender. He loved me and he took his time.
“And then it all turned to shit. It all came out.”
Brooklyn dabbed at her eye as she said the last sentence, emotion leaking out everywhere.
“I still don’t know how Josh found out. I don’t suppose it really matters. I got a phone call from Michael just saying, ‘He knows’, and then he hung up. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know what Josh actually knew, if he knew the extent of it or what. If he knew we’d done it in our house, or what he might know. I didn’t know if I should leave, or what I should do. So I cleaned the house and waited for him to come home. He never did, at least not that night. I didn’t know if I should call him or wait or what. The kids asked where he was and I told them he had a work thing.
“He showed up three days later, looking like hell. I didn’t know what to do. I tried to go to him and hold him and he didn’t want to even touch me. He was so hurt. And hurtful, with the things he said. He called me a slut and a whore. I found out later that he’d beaten Michael to within an inch of his life, and excommunicated him as a brother. And he’d given his parents the ultimatum that they had to, too. Or they’d lose him as a son. He’d told Michael’s fiancée about it, and now she would be looking for me.
“I didn’t know what to do. I tried to talk to him, but he just kept telling me to shut up and go away. I was served four days later. They even had pictures of us. He told me to leave and I started packing for the kids and it was then he got physical, and just grabbed me and screamed at me that I was leaving, but they weren’t. I was afraid for the first time, so I packed what I could and left as fast as I could. He was unshaven, angry, he had red eyes and he was just so angry! I mean, I can understand it, I betrayed him with his brother. But I was ... terrified. He was just so angry. I’ve never seen him like that before. I don’t think he’d hurt me, but his eyes were just so wild...”
Gina and Mae exchanged glances, full of empathy.
“It’s ok child. That’s in the past. This is now. No judgment here,” said Mae, gently.
Brooklyn gave a small sob, then smiled, embarrassedly at the other three women.
“Sorry,” she said, “I thought I was over that.”
She took another moment to gather herself and then smiled, both bravely and brittle. “So. I’m here. In a crappy one bedroom. He filed for adultery. His brother has been cut out of the family entirely. I see the kids, and they still don’t really understand – Josh has not kept them from me, but he makes sure we don’t cross paths when I see them. I pick them up from his parents and drop them back there.”
There was silence for a moment as Brooklyn stared into the distance. And then she whispered, “But that’s not the worst part.”
The other three women just looked at her, as she looked from face to face.
“I don’t know if I can even say this out loud,” she said, as she dropped her gaze to the floor again.
After a few moments quiet, she said, impulsively, “I’m still doing it.”
There was another shocked silence as the other women digested this nugget.
“He calls me sometimes. Tells me to be at a motel. And for some reason, I go,” she said, listlessly, still staring at the floor.
“I don’t have anything else to do. Josh makes sure I have enough money to live, but not much more. I’ve thought about going back to work. I’ve thought about ending it all, but then I think of the kids. But when Michael calls, I go. It’s mechanical. He fucks me, I get up and dress and go home, brain dead. I don’t even know why I go. He’s barely able to get it up anyway, he’s still all bruised and in pain. I think it’s about getting even now, in his mind.”
There was even more silence at this revelation, each of the women dealing with the shock and trying to work out how to respond.
It was Mae who got herself together first. Smoothly, she said, “Well, then child. I have to ask, do you want to be doing this? Going to him?”
There was a whispered, “No,” from Brooklyn, and she continued to just stare at the carpet.
“Well then,” said Mae again, “I think we need to do something about that. Rhonda, do you still have that spare room?”
“I think that young Brooklyn here needs to come stay with you. That’ll be alright now, won’t it?”
It wasn’t so much a question as a statement, but Rhonda didn’t mind. She understood – sort of -what was going through Brooklyn’s mind, and she wanted to help. She nodded vigorously. “I certainly do. I’ll follow Brooke home, and help her pack up some stuff. If that’s ok with you Brooke?”
Brooklyn looked up, tears staining her makeup. “You’d do that?”
“Of course,” replied Gina, softy. “We all would. You need support and help. This kusipää is preying on you. You need the help to resist him and send him away, and we are here to help you.”
“That’s settled then,” said Mae, with some satisfaction. “Brooklyn, you can stay with Rhonda for a while, while you get more settled, and she can ride shotgun for you, and keep this rather revolting man away from you. It honestly sounds like he got what was coming to him, seducing his own brother’s wife. Really.”
Everyone sat for a moment, and Brooklyn burrowed into her purse and produced a packet of face wipes that she started to use to wipe up the streaks in her mascara.
“Are you seeing any kind of therapist, dear?” asked Mae, after a few moments thought.
“No. I had thought about it, but I don’t know how to find one. I want to see a marriage counselor with Josh, but he won’t talk to me about that.”
Mae nodded. “Well, I think that’s par for the course, my dear. Given the situation right now, and his low opinion of you, he doesn’t want to hear your voice right now. And I’m not entirely sure that he’s wrong, or that it’s a bad thing. While it’s true there is only a certain window of opportunity to turn things around, it’s also true that if the aggrieved party doesn’t want to even try at that point, then it’s not going to work anyway. Better for you to spend the time to understand yourself, understand what happened and get some help and tools to combat that, and then go back and try and talk. It may be too late, but going in flailing and desperate isn’t the way to succeed either. The fact that he’s at least talking to you at all and not just cutting you out entirely is a major plus.”
Gina interjected, “Brooklyn should use my woman. She’s really good.”
“What about the guy Deanna used?” asked Mae.
Gina shook her head. “She needs a woman, Mae. Look at her.”
Mae looked over at Brooklyn, who was weeping slowly again.
“Yes, perhaps you are right. Can you make the introductions Gina?” asked Mae.
“Of course. You know it,” replied Gina, glad she could actually offer something tangible.
“I ... I don’t know if I can pay for that. I am still on Josh’s medical insurance, and I am not sure that’s covered.”
“Hush child,” said Mae, a little sharply. She continued in a slightly softer voice, “We can help out there. You just need to talk to someone qualified. We can offer support, but we aren’t therapists and we don’t pretend to be. Don’t worry about the cost. We can all work that out later.”
Brooklyn was wiping her face and held out the wipe in her hand, just looking at the other women and said, tremulously, “Why? Why do you do this? Why are you helping me? You don’t know me? I don’t know you. Why are you trying to help me like this?”
There was wonder in her voice, but it was a fair question. In fact, it was the major question of the evening. The reason for her being there, in Mae’s house.
Mae gave a “hmmmmph” sound, the sound one makes when they are about to embark on a long and detailed response.
“Well,” she said, for the third time, “we all have pasts. You’ve heard us say a bunch of times that we have all been through this and have been where you are. That wasn’t just words. All three of us have made ... questionable ... decisions in the past. All of us have hurt other people, made mistakes, and then often compounded them. We’ve created a sort of ... support network for those who, like ourselves, have made mistakes and need a safe place to talk about it, work it out and either dedicate ourselves to trying to rebuild, or, if necessary, to move on.”
Brooklyn recoiled a little, and said, “You’ve all fucked up like me?”
“Oh Babe,” said Gina, with a smile, “You have no idea.”
“Seriously?” asked Brooklyn, with a very small smile on her face, the first they’d seen.
“Oh yes,” interjected Rhonda, firmly. “Very much big time.”
“In fact,” said Mae, “One of the things we generally do in this first meeting is discuss our own situations, so you can see that we aren’t here to judge or try and manipulate you. Would you like to hear our stories? Get a feel for who we are and why we can so easily relate to your situation?”
Brooklyn stared at Mae for a few seconds, trying to comprehend what she was saying, then she looked at Gina and Rhonda, and then nodded, vigorously. Almost wondrously.
“OK then, who wants to go first?” asked Mae, getting up. “I’m going to get myself a fresh hot chocolate. Gina? Rhonda?”
Gina and Rhonda looked at each other and there was silence for a moment until Gina said, a little exasperatedly, “Sure, I’ll go first.” It was lost on neither that Mae had taken herself off to the kitchen at that exact moment in order to avoid having to go first. It was a typical Mae move.
While Mae was into the kitchen, Gina put down her coffee and pushed herself back into her chair, making herself comfortable.
“Well, lets see,” she began, “how to start? I’m Gina Trellis. I used to be Gina Nape, but not any more. I’m thirty-eight. I’ve been divorced for almost four years now. I’m a community college educator. Not a full professor, more like a mid level teacher, teaching adult classes for both GED and bridging classes to a full degree. Mostly, I teach English, although I do some phys-ed classes too. I spend a lot of time at the gym and I have a small side career as a pole dance teacher. I teach some belly dancing too, but to be honest, most of the girls want to know how to spin around a pole and not look stupid.”
She stopped, smiling self-consciously. “Yeah, I know. Embarrassing. But,” she shrugged, “it pays the bills. And you wouldn’t believe the body control it takes to be upside down on a pole for ten minutes.”
“I was married to Scott. He was ... great,” she said, a little wistfully. “It was great. Everything a marriage should be – it sounds a lot like yours, Brooke. We met right after college. Before I met Scott, I had my moments as a party girl. I went to a few parties, met a few guys, and hooked up with several of them, as every girl does. I went a bit further though – I took on two or three guys a couple of times, and attended a gangbang, where I did a few guys. Not as many as the main attraction – a girl named Paula, who was dating some guy named Bob – but still, I helped myself to a few dicks that night. But when I met Scott, all the partying stopped, and I was totally ok with that. No resentment or anything – I’d had my fun, spread my oats and seen what was out there, and I was totally ok with that. I chalked it up to life experience and never really thought about it again.
“I was already trying to student teach, which is a nightmare in this city. I met Scott at a mixer held by the alumni club of U of I. Apparently he was an alumni too, only from a different campus from me. It was love at first site. I was smitten, and he was too. All those corny and stupid things you hear people say? It was all true. Hearts, flowers, stars in your eyes, the whole bit. We spent the entire night we met talking about how many kids we’d have, where we’d live, what religion we’d raise them, I mean, it sounds really stupid now. We were kids. We were raised on the whole Disney romance thing. I thought it was forever, and he did too. And for a while, it seemed like it would be.”
Mae had returned by this point, just in time to catch the last points made by Gina. To everyone’s surprise, she nodded along with what Gina was saying, agreeing with her emphatically through body language.
“We dated fast, and were living together within three months, and married in nine. And it was great. So much in common. He was a sports massage therapist. He knew all the buttons to push, let me tell you.
“And yet, as with all things, familiarity, well it didn’t breed contempt, yeah? But it fuckin’ bred complacency. I look back and I don’t know what happened. I was teaching and there was this guy. You know? There’s always ‘this guy’”, Gina used her fingers to do the quotes signal.
“I dunno. Scott was working a lot; this guy was ... exciting. We didn’t have kids – we were both doing ok with our careers, and Scott thought that we might have to move a few times for his career and all the rest of it, so we’d put it off. It was just the two of us. He was working a lot, doing his best to be selected as the massage therapist for one of our Olympic teams. I was starting out teaching at the gym. I started out with just Yoga. This guy, Donny, he worked at the gym too as a private trainer. Well, I’m sure you don’t have to imagine. He was hot, get tight bod. He came into my yoga class, ‘to tone up’. Yeah, right. I can imagine he was hardening up alright. And of course, I had to have my hands all over him to get the posture correct. We were all hot and sweaty ... I should have been stronger but one night, it just happened. The gym was closing, there was no one there, he asked me about a particular posture, which is basically bent over, doggy style. That’s what we used to call it, in Yoga training. And course he’s behind me and I can feel his bulge, and then he’s in the position and I’m moving his body and I can feel his erection. And he gets up and just looks at me, and I look at him, and we end up kissing, and I, for some reason, cannot wait to get his erection out. Like you were saying, Brooke, it suddenly became the most important thing in the world – I’ve no idea why.
“Well, I don’t think you have to imagine too hard to see where it went from there. The only thing that stopped us for a second was him running into the office to turn off the lights and the video recording system, and we proceeded to fuck on pretty much every piece of equipment in the place.