Hero's Lament
Chapter 1

Copyright© 2016 by Laptopwriter

"Ah, ah, aheee" she cried out with every thrust. "Oh God!" Her long, blond tresses flew violently in every direction as she tightly closed her eyes and threw her head back, wild with passion. Her sleek body glistened with a sheen of perspiration as the man lying beneath pushed into her again and again. "OH, YES, YES, I ... I'M COM..."

With one last great thrust, he drove deeply into her heavenly gates. His grip tightened around her waist in reaction to his body's amatory spasms. With a primitive sounding grunt Tyler discharged the warm elixir of life into the soft cavern of his wife's vagina.

As her euphoric trance of ecstasy slowly receded, Nancy collapsed next to her love. Together they struggled to gain control of their heavy breathing. "Oh wow," Nancy chuckled. "It's been awhile since we've been able to do that, especially on a Sunday morning."

"Uh huh," Tyler replied, still breathing hard. "You..." he took another deep breath, "you think we could talk your mom and dad into taking the kids every weekend?" he joked.

"I could try," she joked back.

"Come here, you." Tyler wrapped his arm around his wife of thirteen years and pulled her in closer. "Have I told you yet today that I love you?"

She giggled. "Do all those, 'Oh my God's' count as 'I love you's?' If so then I'd say only about twenty or thirty times, so far."

He still held her in an embrace while rolling her over on her back. He looked into her eyes and smiled. "I love you," he told her just before pressing their lips together.

Nancy held him in position with her hand on the back of his head.

With two kids at home, seldom did they get a chance to make real love like that anymore. Usually it was a quick in and out while trying to stay quiet, but on this rare occasion they'd been at it for hours.

After breaking the kiss, Tyler glanced at the clock then closed his eyes and let his head drop in mock despair.

"What?" Nancy asked while turning to see what he was looking at. "Oh shit," she remarked when seeing the time. "Ten-thirty? We have to grab a shower and get dressed. Dad and mom will be here with the kids in half an hour."

Tyler lowered his head and kissed his lovely wife once more. "Okay, gorgeous, back to reality. To be honest, I don't think I could get it up again, anyway."

"If we had more time, I'd take that as a challenge," she replied with a smile, then gave him one more quick peck on the lips before sitting up. "Okay, handsome, let's grab that shower. We've got thirty minutes."

It was actually thirty-five minutes later when the happy duo descended the stairs. Tyler opened the inside door and unlocked the screen door. The late summer air was fresh from the previous day's rain. "Damn, it's gorgeous outside, honey. I think I'll fire up the grill for lunch."

Tyler stepped outside to soak up some of the warm rays of sunlight. Across the street, his neighbor, Kevin Cermak, was just starting his lawnmower. He glanced up and waved at Tyler who waved back. Even though they'd been neighbors for the last couple of years, they never did become good friends. Tyler thought he was probably an okay guy, they just moved in difference circles, had different friends. His wife was better friends with Susan, Kevin's wife, than he was with Kevin.

"Here they come, honey." Tyler yelled back into the house as her parents came driving up with the kids.

Nancy came out of the house and followed her husband down the front porch to greet everyone as they piled out of the car. The kids were first. Both Christopher and LeAnn hugged their parents.

A little slower at extricating themselves from the vehicle, was Nancy's mom and dad. Nancy hugged them both. Tyler was facing the street and was getting ready to greet his in-laws when he took off at a dead run. He was the only one who saw it happen but the rest heard the blood-curdling scream. As they all looked in the same direction, Tyler was already half-way across the street.

As he approached, he saw things were worse than he feared. Kevin was on the ground; his face was a mask of agony. His pant-leg was ripped to shreds and soaked in red. There was a large gash in his leg and blood was squirting from the wound like a drinking fountain.

"Call 911," yelled Tyler. He'd never had any medical training but he knew instantly that Kevin had cut an artery. He unbuckled his belt and pulled it free, then wrapped it around his neighbor's thigh, looped the end through the buckle, and pulled it as tight as he could.

Susan was in the kitchen, in the back of the house but heard the commotion and came rushing out. She almost fainted at the sight of her husband lying in a pool of blood.

Nancy's dad was still fishing for his phone as they all converged on the grisly scene. "CHARLES," Tyler yelled again to jolt his father-in-law into action, "Hurry, call 911."

Nancy dashed over to Susan and was holding on to her as the poor woman fell to her hands and knees and started vomiting in the grass.

Charles completed the emergency call and was now helping Tyler pull on the make-shift tourniquet. Even though Christopher was only twelve, he had a lot of his dad in him. He removed the light jacket he was wearing, balled it up, and stuffed it under Kevin's head. Little LeAnn turned from the gory site and buried her face into her grandmother's protective bosom as she cried.

Minutes seemed like hours. A small crowd of concerned neighbors had gathered around by the time the paramedics arrived. "Okay, we'll take over from here," one of them said as they moved into position. One gave Kevin a shot while the other applied a more professional tourniquet. They lowered their gurney to ground level and transported him over. A third EMT already had an I-V ready by the time they got him in the truck.

"This is his wife," yelled Nancy to one of the emergency personnel. "Can she go with you?"

"Yeah, but she'll have to ride up front," one of them responded.

Nancy helped the distraught woman into the truck. For a second everyone just stood around and watched as the ambulance took off with its siren blaring. One of the neighbors was standing next to Tyler.

"What happened?"

"I'm not really sure," Tyler replied. "I was across the street and just saw it out of the corner of my eye. He was walking behind the mower and suddenly jumped back ... maybe he stumbled; anyway, when he did he pulled the mower back with him. The damn thing ran right over his leg."

The man looked over at all the blood staining the grass. "It's a good thing you saw it, Tyler, he'd of probably bled to death if you hadn't."

Tyler didn't say anything. He just did what he had to do. "Come on, everyone; there's nothing more we can do here. Let's go home."

As he gathered up his family, the entire crowd started to disperse as well. Once Tyler had everyone safely home again, he did his best to calm everyone's nerves. "Mom, Dad, what can I get you guys to drink?" he asked his in-laws as they took a seat in the living room.

"Do you have any lemonade?" asked Nell, his mother-in-law.

"I believe Nancy made some just for you, mom," replied Tyler with a smile.

"I did, honey. It's on the top shelve in the fridge," Nancy confirmed.

Charles spoke up next. "Grab me a beer while you're in there, son."

"Kids, if you want anything, come and get it yourselves," yelled Tyler from the kitchen.

When he returned to the living room with the drinks, his injured neighbor was still the main topic of conversation. Everyone was very worried. LeAnn was only eight years old and was probably the most troubled. She was asking her mother if Kevin was going to die. Nancy assured her he would be alright.

Tyler was just about to try and steer the conversation in another direction when he noticed the expression on his wife's face. "What?" he asked, looking at her.

"I've got to go to the hospital," she announced. "I just realized; she doesn't have her purse, no ID, no car, no keys; she doesn't even have cab fare to get home. The house is sitting open as well. I've got to go over there and lock things up then drive down and give her, her purse."

She was right. Susan jumped into the ambulance with nothing. "I'll go," Tyler volunteered. "You stay here and visit with your folks. I'll go next door and lock everything up."

"What about her purse," Nancy asked.

"I'll find it. I'll run it over to her at the hospital," he told his wife.

"Why don't I go with you?" volunteered Charles. "I can follow you in their car. That way she'll have a way to get back home."

"That'd be great, if you don't mind, dad."

They told everyone they'd be back in an hour and took off to be good Samaritans. When they got to the hospital, they walked up to the desk in the ER. Tyler caught the attention of one of the nurses and did the talking.

"Excuse me, ma'am, is there anyway to see Susan Cermak? Her husband came in with a leg wound and..."


He was interrupted by a female voice who saw him as she was coming out of the emergency room.

He almost didn't recognize her. Her eyes were terribly red and puffy from crying and her face was stained from the tears. "Susan, how's he doing?"

"They're taking him up to surgery right now. I was just on my way to the waiting room."

"Well we locked up your place for you, so don't worry about that. We also brought your purse. I made sure your phone and your wallet were inside. Charles followed me over here in your car. It's parked in the second row of lot 'A.' The keys are in here too," he said, holding up her handbag.

"Oh, thank you, thank you. I didn't even think of all that. I didn't have my phone or anything," she said taking her purse. "Tyler, Kevin owes his life to you. I heard the paramedics in the ambulance say if you hadn't stopped the bleeding with your belt, Kevin would have died before they got there."

She had obviously rinsed out her mouth but he could still smell a hint of vomit on her breath as she reached up and kissed him on the cheek. "I don't know how we'll ever be able to repay you," she told him.

"Don't be silly," he replied modestly. "I'm just glad I was there."


The grateful wife put her arms around him and hugged him with all her might. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," she mumbled into his chest.

Charles couldn't wait to tell the family about the hero in their midst but Tyler took it all with humility and really just wanted to spend the day having a good time with family.

All day Sunday, Nancy kept checking across the street for signs of life but hadn't seen any until early in the evening.

"Tyler, it looks like Susan's home. I'm going to go over there to see how Kevin is doing. You want to come with?"

"Honey, she's probably exhausted. Why don't you hold off till tomorrow? I'm sure he's fine."

"I won't stay long. I just want to see if she needs anything."

"Okay," Tyler returned. "You go ahead. I'll stay here with the kids. Don't be long though. I doubt if she's had much sleep."

When Susan answered the door and saw Nancy standing there, she was actually delighted. As tired as she was, she had been under a tremendous amount of stress and just needed someone to talk to.

She was in her robe and asked Nancy to make a pot of coffee while she grabbed a quick shower. Nancy thought it was a little late to start drinking coffee, but Susan's inner clock didn't know night from day after spending the last thirty hours at her husband's bedside.

The soothing water felt so good she took a full twenty minutes, then threw on a pair of sweats before joining her neighbor in the kitchen. Nancy started pouring the coffee as soon as Susie walked in.

"Here you go," Nancy said, setting a cup of hot brew in front of the thankful woman.

Susan's lips turn up into a small smile as she took a sip then set the cup back down. "Mmm, thanks. That machine coffee at the hospital was so bad, I couldn't drink it."

"Well, how is he?"

"He'll be fine," she replied, "thanks to your husband. They had to operate to repair the artery so they have him in a cast and he'll be off his feet for a while, but in a month or so he should be good as new."

"Oh that's wonderful, Susie. I'm so glad to hear that."

"Thanks. You know, sometimes we can lose sight of how much we love somebody. When I saw Kevin lying there in the yard with all that blood, I thought I was going to lose him for sure. Even in the emergency room, he was so white, he looked terrible. All I could think of was, what if he doesn't make it." She pondered for a moment, re-living her fear. "I'll admit he has some rough edges and sometime I feel like I want to kill him myself but I ... I don't know what I'd do without him, Nancy ... I ... I..."

The pressure had finally gotten to her. Worry had kept her other emotions in check but she couldn't hold on any longer. She buried her face in her hands and let the tears gush like a waterfall.

Nance went to her side, put a comforting arm around her shoulders, and let her cry it out.

After a couple minutes, Susan started to compose herself again. "I'm so thankful for Tyler," she whimpered while wiping her eyes. "I don't know how we can ever thank him. He saved Kevin's life."

"Well ... you know Tyler; he's being very humble about the whole thing. He says he's just glad he saw it and could do something."

Nancy listened to what Susan had gone through with her husband in the hospital. "How long will he be in there?" she asked.

"They're going to hold him another two or three days, then he'll be coming home. I've got some vacation time coming so I'll work until they release him then I'll stay home until he can get around on his own. At first he's supposed to stay in bed with his leg propped up."

Susan looked at her friend with guilt written across her face. "You know, I feel terrible for even thinking this way, but ... well, he's been working four-to-twelve at the plant now and we've hardly even seen each other, except on weekends and those are always so busy..."

Again, Susan showed her guilt as she looked down at the table and took another sip of coffee before continuing.

"Don't get me wrong. I'm not happy this happened, but it'll be nice to be able to spend some time with him, you know what I mean?"

"Of course," Nancy responded. "Tyler's home every night but with the kids we don't really get much quality time together."

"Huh," Susan joked, "too bad our husbands aren't more thoughtful." She saw the perplexed look on Nancy's face. "Well, I'm home alone all night and you're home alone all day. If they switched jobs we'd see them all the time."

"Oh, yeah;" she replied with a chuckle. "I've thought about getting a part-time job so I didn't just sit home every day but it's hard to find one where I could still be home for the kids after school. That's a deal breaker for Tyler."

"Yeah, that's why Kevin and I never had any ... well, actually I guess it's been my decision not to have kids. I've always been career oriented. There just never seemed to be a good time..."

Susan just let her words wander off while she seemed to zone out for a second before looking back at Nancy. "Do you think it's too late ... to have kids, I mean? Shit, I'm thirty-three years old. Kevin will be forty in a couple years; you think that's too late to start a family?"

"No, not at all, Sue. Hell, women have kids well into their forties these days."

Nancy saw her friend was deep in thought before replying. "Maybe it's time ... I mean ... something like this happens and it makes you look at things differently, you know. I'll wait until he's feeling better, or course, but when he's well I'm going to talk to Kevin. Suddenly I want more than just a house, I want kids—I want a family."

The two ladies talked until they were all talked out. Finally feeling the exhaustion from her ordeal, Susan announced she was going to bed. On the way back home, Nancy thought over what Susan said about losing track of how much she loved her husband. She felt her eyes well up from shame. She had been guilty of the same thing.

"You're just in time, the kids were just getting ready for bed," Tyler said as she walked in the door. "Isn't that right, kids?"

"Ahhhh," came the protest from the two young-ones.

Without saying a word, Nancy walked up to her man, put her arms around his neck and gave him a passionate kiss. As they pulled apart, Tyler saw the glistening in her eyes.

"Is Kevin okay? You're crying."

A little embarrassed, she wiped the tears away and chuckled. "He's going to be fine. Sue and I were talking about how much our husbands mean to us, that's all. I guess I got a little emotional."

Tyler leaned in and pressed his lips to hers again.

"Geez, why don't you guys get a room," Chris commented from the couch.

Both parents couldn't help but laugh. It forced them to separate again. "Alright, wise guy, that's enough out of you," scolded Tyler, trying to stifle his amusement. "Upstairs, both of you; come on, school tomorrow."

"Oh, okay," groaned the siblings. Chris felt he was too old, but LeAnn gave her mom and dad a big hug and a kiss before running upstairs.

By Monday, things were pretty much back to normal. Nancy got the kids off to school and her husband off to work. As she stood on the front porch, waving goodbye to her departing hero, she looked across the street. Susan's car was gone. She remembered her neighbor said she was going to work until they released Kevin.

With a small sigh, Nancy returned to the kitchen where she cleared the breakfast dishes, then poured herself another cup of coffee. As she had done so many times in the past, she sat and started to daydream about getting a part-time job. She needed something to do. The time between everyone leaving the house and coming home again was like purgatory. How many times can a person clean, go shopping, or watch daytime TV. She'd been doing those things for years and she was bored to tears.

Out of all their friends, she was the only wife who didn't work. Maybe it was time to try again. She'd tried before but was unsuccessful. She had talked it over with Tyler, and although he was unenthusiastic, he was supportive ... but only if she could still be there for the kids when they came home from school. That was the problem! There was just nothing around that offered those kinds of hours. She even tried volunteering for some charities but when she told them she'd have to leave by two-thirty they'd tell her to forget about it ... in a nice way, of course.

Well, she contemplated, taking another sip of coffee; time to start seriously looking again. Maybe I'll be luckier this time. As she deliberated more about the kind of work that might be available, her mind turned to other thoughts; terrible, shameful thoughts. Thoughts of the reprehensible actions a person was capable of committing out of loneliness and boredom. Her vision clouded and she felt tears finding their way down her cheeks.

A little later in the week, Nancy saw Susan's car still in their drive when Tyler left for work. She ran across the street and rang their bell.

Susan answered looking like she was getting ready to leave the house. "Oh, hi Nancy; I was just getting ready to go pick up Kevin. They're releasing him today."

"I figured that when I saw your car still in the drive. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"Ah, no, not right now, but thanks for asking."

"Sure," Nancy replied. "Well, you know where I'm at if you need anything."

Susan thanked her again then took off for the hospital while Nancy returned home to continue her search for employment. It was a little after noon by the time she saw them drive up. Nancy watched out the window as Susan got out the driver's side, then hurry around the back of the car to open the passenger's side door. She reached into the back seat and pulled out a pair of crutches for her slow moving hubby. Together, they disappeared into the house. Nancy felt an obligation to help Susan and wanted to go over there so bad but decided to respect their privacy. It wasn't until Friday when she thought she'd offer her assistance once again.

Susan invited her in with a big smile.

"I was just on my way to the grocery store and wondered if you needed anything while I was there?" asked Nancy.

"Thanks, but I stocked up before Kevin came home. Right now my fridge is bursting at the seams," Susan chuckled. "But come on in. You want to say hi to Kevin? He's in the bedroom. I'll just go in and make sure he's decent, first."

"No, no; that's okay. I don't want to disturb him, Sue."

"Nonsense," she replied. "You won't be disturbing him. I'm sure he'd love to see someone besides me. I haven't left him alone for the last two days. Come on."

Susan took her hand and led her to the guest room. They stopped just around the corner from the door. Susan spoke loud so Kevin could hear her. "Honey, Nancy came over to see how you're doing. Are you covered up?"

There was no answer.

Nance quickly offered, "Maybe he's asleep. Really ... I don't want to bother him."

"No, he's not asleep. I was just in there." Susan raised her voice a little more. "Honey, did you hear me?"

"Ah, yeah, I heard. Okay, I'm covered."

Kevin watched through the doorway as the two ladies rounded the corner and came into view. Even in his condition, seeing them together, Kevin could not help fantasizing about a three-some. A slight smile showed on his face as he pictured it in his mind.

"Hi, Kevin," addressed Nancy, seemingly a little unsure of herself. "How do you feel?"

"Lucky," he told her. "Lucky to be alive, thanks to Tyler."

"Tell her how you did it," Susan said.

"Ah, it seems so stupid, looking back. I don't want everybody to know I'm afraid of snakes."

"It's better than having everyone think you're just plain clumsy," teased his smiling wife.

Kevin told his neighbor the short story behind the accident. It would have probably been funny if it hadn't almost cost him his life.

That night, as her family sat down to dinner, Nancy repeated the accounts of his accident. "I went over and saw Kevin today," she started.

"How's he doing?" asked Tyler.

"He's doing good. He told me what happened that day. You're not going to believe what he was trying to do..."

"I give up," joked Tyler.

"Kill a snake," she resumed.

"A snake," Chris asserted. "The only kind we have around here are Garter Snakes, mom. They can't hurt you."

"Yeah, well it startled him. He must have just past the snake up with the mower and probably scared it. Anyway, it shot right in front of Kevin's feet. He panicked and tried to pull the mower backwards to kill it but he was jumping back at the same time and tripped."

For someone as capable as Tyler, it was hard for him to believe anyone could be so reckless. "Why didn't he let go of the mower? The damn thing's got a kill switch on it. If he'd have let go right away the engine would have died immediately."

"Like I said, he panicked. His hand froze on the handle."

"Geeze," Tyler said, shaking his head, "all that over a Garter Snake. How long has he lived here, for Pete sake. He's never seen a snake before?"

"I think it was just that it surprised him, honey. He also told me to thank you for saving his life. He's really grateful to you. He said a couple of times that he didn't know how he was ever going to repay you. He's hoping you'll go over there so he can thank you in person."

"Tell him it's not necessary, honey. But when you see him again, tell him if he really wants to repay me, he should buy some snake repellant for his yard."

That brought a laugh from everyone around the table.

Over the next few weeks, relations between the two families were getting back to normal, although Nancy and Susan did seem to be closer than they were before the accident. Tyler never did go over to receive his hero's welcome and Kevin started back to working four-to-twelve so their paths didn't cross. It was seven weeks to the day, before Kevin saw his chance.

It was mid-morning on a Saturday. Kevin looked out the window and saw Nancy in the front of their house. Both cars were in the drive so it was a good bet Tyler was around somewhere as well.

"Honey, I'm going over to talk to Tyler. I have yet to tell him how grateful I am to him."

"Alright," responded Susan. "Why don't you invite him and Nancy over for dinner tonight. Tell them to bring the kids."

"That sounds like a good idea. I will," he answered on his way out.

Tyler had been working in the garage but had to take a leak. He was just coming out of the bathroom when he glanced out the window and saw Kevin crossing the street. He hadn't talked to him since the accident so he assumed his neighbor was coming over to say thanks. He approached the screen door but stopped short of venturing outside and just watched as Kevin walked up and stood behind Nancy. She was weeding the flower bed under the picture window and was still kneeling in the dirt. She hadn't heard his approach but with almost a sixth sense a chill ran up her back as she felt her neighbor's presence. She stood and backed up to put some space between them.

"What do you want, Kevin?"

Tyler was about to walk outside but hesitated when he recognized his wife's uneasiness. He knew his wife well enough to know when she was tense. Something wasn't right, he could feel it. It didn't take an expert to read their body language. Tyler was getting an uncomfortable feeling. He noticed his wife nervously glancing around, presumably to see if anyone was watching them. What the hell was going on, he wondered? He knew, because of the difference in light, they couldn't see him behind the screen so he stayed out of sight and listened to their conversation.

Kevin's obviously cool reception caught him slightly off guard. "I ... um, I came over to talk to Tyler. I still haven't thanked him for saving my life..."

"He's in the back, by the garage," she said curtly cutting him off.

Kevin looked around to make sure Tyler was nowhere in sight before speaking. "And..." he continued, "I thought as long as I'm here I'd, ah - I just thought I'd let you know the doc said I can resume all activities – all of them," he repeated with a snicker. "So, now that all the excitement's over..."

Nancy was hoping she misunderstood his meaning. Surely he couldn't be talking about what she thought he was talking about. She looked him in the eye. "I don't believe you. Are you seriously suggesting we keep screwing each other ... after my husband saved your life; this is the way you plan to repay him?"

Suddenly Tyler's whole world was caving in around him. His body froze in place as if he'd just been struck with a bolt of lightning. Still hidden behind the screen door, he stood spellbound as his wife's words reverberated in his head.

"Jesus, Kevin, you really are a pig, aren't you. You don't have a decent bone in your body. Do you have any idea the chance we took? What if Tyler every found out? What if Susan ever found out? At the hospital, she never left your side. She loves you. How can you even think about continuing our dirty little affair?"

"Oh don't give me that shit," Kevin responded snidely. "I never forced you into anything. So Tyler saved my life; I'm grateful, big fucking deal. That doesn't mean we can't still enjoy ourselves. Nothing's really changed. We've already talked about our spouses finding out. There's no way. Who's going see us? No one's around during the day. Everybody in the whole fucking neighborhood works during the day. Tyler's never going to find out about us and neither will Su..."

Kevin never got a chance to finish what he was saying. Both he and Nancy looked over in shock when they heard the screen door fly open.

"YOU SON-OF-A BITCH," screamed Tyler as he leaped from the porch. "I'LL KILL YOU!"

Before his mind could comprehend what was happening, Kevin was dropped by a hard right fist to the side of his head.

The recognition that he had saved the life of the man who was screwing his wife, had enraged Tyler beyond comprehension ... beyond reason. He was insane with anger as he jumped on his stunned enemy's chest and wrapped both hands around his throat.

"STOP! STOP! TYLER, YOU'LL KILL HIM," screamed Nancy. With tears streaming down her face, she grabbed his arm and desperately tried to pull it free from the choking man's windpipe. "TYLER!" she screamed again as she unsuccessfully tried to break his grip.

Kevin could feel his air supply being cut off. Terrified, he looked into the eyes of a mad man. Instinctively, he seized Tyler's wrists and tried to pry them from his throat. He gagged and gasped for a single breath. He tried twisting his body and kicking. He bucked with his hips, attempting to throw his assailant off, but nothing worked.

Only the shrill scream from a eight year old could penetrate the fury of her father's wrath. "DADDY, DADDY..." cried LeAnn.

It was like dumping a bucket of cold water over his head. Tyler looked up and into the petrified expression on his daughter's face. His grip relaxed. Now with tears of his own, his heart pounded from the pain of knowing how he had almost killed a man in the presence of his little girl.

He quickly stood, picked her up, and clutched her in a protective embrace. "I'm sorry, honey. Daddy's so sorry," he cried. "I didn't mean to scare you, pumpkin. It's okay," he said as he carried the scared little girl back into the house and away from the two cheaters.

Nancy was almost hysterical. She thought for sure, her husband was going to kill her co-adulterer. She knelt in the grass, hunched over with both hands covering her face and her forehead almost hitting her knees. Her body convulsed with each sob. She didn't even hear the frantic voice approaching from across the street.

"MY GOD, WHAT HAPPENED?" yelled Sue as she ran to the scene.

Ken had rolled over on his side. His face was bright red and he was bleeding from a gash over his left eye. He was still coughing and gasping for air. Sue dropped to her knees and cradled his head in her arms. She hadn't seen what happened, only the aftermath. She looked to Nancy for answers.

"Nancy, what happened? Who ... where's Tyler?" But her friend was lost in her own world of despair and unable to answer.

Kevin was still rasping with every breath but was at least getting some air into his lungs. His voice was barely audible as he tried to speak. "Hel ... help me..." he choked out as he struggled to get up.

"Where's Tyler?" cried Susan. "Who did this to you? My God!"

"Pleas ... please, just help me up," he responded without answering.

Anxiously, Susan reached under his arm and helped as he grappled to his feet. She gave him as much support as she could but was also worried about her neighbor. "What about Nancy?" she asked, looking back over her shoulder.

"She'll..." he was still choking for air. "She'll be okay."

Susan felt guilty leaving her alone but had to help her husband first. With his wife's assistance, Kevin limped his way back home.

"Tell me what happened?" she cried again as the bewildered woman helped her beaten husband into a chair.

Kevin had no idea what to tell her. He had already made up his mind he wasn't going to call the cops. He still clung to the slightest hope he'd somehow be able to keep his wife from finding out the truth, although now he felt that was a long shot. He held up his hand and begged for time to get catch his breath again while trying to come up with some kind of story.

"Come on," Susan said, helping him out of the chair. "Let's go in the bathroom and take care of that eye. Then you're going to tell me what happened."

"Ouch," Kevin winced and pulled away as his wife started cleaning up the blood.

Once she got a better look at the cut..."Oh, Kevin, this is deep. You're going to need stiches. Come on," she said handing him the wash cloth. "Press this against the cut and get in the car. I'm taking you to the ER."

Across the street, Tyler was doing his best to explain his burst of temper to his daughter while his wife still sat in their lawn seeing her entire life flash before her eyes. Even though she'd never seen Tyler anywhere near that angry before, she had no worries for the welfare of their child or her own safety.

Nancy languished in grief and fear. She was at a complete loss and had no idea what to do. She had to face him, but how. Her tears subsided as her mind turned toward the impending confrontation.

Just as she'd been doing secretly for weeks, she cursed herself for surrendering to her boredom and doing something so selfish and stupid, only now her self-loathing took on a whole new dimension. Before it was from guilt; now she was face to face with everything she risked, everything she could lose.

It had been a good ten or twelve minutes before Nancy even tried summoning the courage to stand. She took two steps and supported herself with the porch railing while wiping her eyes again. Her entire body shook with fright. Cautiously, she entered the home she'd shared with her loving family.

While backing out of their drive, Susan caught a glimpse of her good friend as she entered the house and was relieved to see she appeared to be okay. In her mind, she couldn't begin to comprehend what could have happened but her questions would have to wait. At that moment she had to get her husband to the emergency.

Tyler was sitting in the living room with LeAnn in his lap. Her little arms wrapped around her father as she rested her head on his chest. Remnants of tears could still be seen on her rosy cheeks. The man who almost killed their neighbor just a few minutes earlier, now softly hummed a soothing lullaby while he rocked his little girl back and forth.

Nancy looked at the loving scene and had a premonition of it all being taken from her. That fear was increased when she saw the hatred in his eyes as Tyler glared at her.

"I ... I'm so sorry, Tyler," she whispered. "I never meant..."

She let the words drift into nothingness as he looked away. He wasn't interested in hearing her pitiful apologies. Her heart felt as if it had just shattered into little pieces. She hadn't even a glimmer of hope for saving her marriage, the look that Tyler had just given her, foretold of impending doom. Just that fast, the wonderful life they had built as a family was gone ... and for what, she asked herself? For nothing but trying to add a little excitement to her dull, lonely days; never, never had she ever even considered anyone finding out. It was their secret, just the two of them. No one was supposed to get hurt. No one was ever supposed to know.

Nancy climbed the stairs as if they led to a gallows. Her grief was almost too much to handle. Briefly, thoughts of ending it flashed through her mind. She strayed into their bedroom and closed the door behind her. She sat on the edge of the bed and raised her head to stare at the evil woman looking back at her from the dressing table mirror.

Uncontrollable tears flooded her eyes as she leaned over and buried her face into the pillow.

"Now," demanded an angry Susan while driving back from the hospital, "tell me what happened! Who did this to you?"

Kevin had been desperately trying to think of something to tell his wife but had come up blank. He told the doctor he was trying to unjam a cabinet door and when it finally let loose it flew back and hit him. The doc seemed to accept his story but Susan knew better and she wasn't dumb. He didn't see any other choices but to come clean and throw himself on her mercy.

"Sue, I ... I love you. Before I tell you what happened, I want you to know that. No matter what happens, you have to believe me when..."

Susan glanced over and looked into her husband's tearing eyes; suddenly it hit her. "You ... you're having an affair," she muttered almost as if in shock. "It was somebody's husband, wasn't it. Oh my God, who ... someone I know?"

Kevin just hung his head and stayed quiet while his shocked wife started running through the possibilities. Was it someone she knew? When? When did he have time? It had to be during the day ... before he went to work.

As Susan was pulling back into their drive she looked across the street remembering her neighbor kneeling in the lawn, crying. That's when it all came together. My God, she thought, Nancy was home all day ... and she was so close; the kids were in school, all the neighbors worked..."You're having an affair with Nancy?" she blurted out. Her heart didn't want to believe it, but her mind knew it was true. "Tyler beat you up, didn't he? He found out..." Almost as if in a trance, she stepped from the car.

Kevin raced around the hood and approached her, looking for forgiveness.

Without even waiting for him to say anything, she lashed out and slapped him hard across the face.

"I'm sorry; I'm so very sorry," he whimpered.

Susan's ire rose almost to that of her neighbor's. "That bitch," she said out loud. "All this time, pretending to be my friend and all the while screwing around with my husband behind my back!"

She looked at the sniveling man she had loved so much. "And you, I ... I can't believe you'd do this. How could you? Damn it, Keven, we just started talking about having a family."

"We still can," he said sounding hopeful. "It ... it just kind of happened, but it's over ... honest. That's what I was telling Nancy when Tyler overheard us. I'm so sorry, honey..."

His apology was cut short with another stinging slap across his face.

"Don't you call me that ... no more, never again! You lost the right to call me honey, you ... oh God," she cried out. "I just can't believe this. What a nightmare."

"Please," he whined again. He went to reach for her. "I'm so sor..."

Susan backed up, out of his reach. "I want you out of this house," she stated, not waiting for him to finish yet another apology. "Pack your bags and get out."

"Sue, no ... please; where ... where would I go? Please, I..."

"I don't care where you go. Sleep in the streets for all I care, but if you're not out of this house in an hour I'll have Tyler come over and throw you out." It was her last word on the subject. She turned her back on him and went inside the house. Her heart pounded like a drum as she poured herself some coffee and then exited into the patio. It was her favorite spot. She decided to sit out there and contemplate her life without Kevin. Only then did the tears start to fall.

Tyler was finally able to calm LeAnn down. She returned to the back deck to play with her dolls.

Tyler was lost. His wife was up stairs doing whatever ... he didn't know. Maybe she was packing, maybe trying to think of a way to lie her way out of it ... who knew. He didn't, and he really didn't care.

At the moment he was more concerned with Kevin. His hate for the man was festering. All he could think about was the fact that he had saved the life of the man who ruined his. If he'd only known ... he could have stood over him and laughed as the life-giving blood gushed from his body. The thought made him smile.

He was deep in thought when he heard someone calling his name. He looked up and saw Susan standing in the doorway.

"What is it, Susan?"

"Where is she, Tyler? That bitch who called herself my friend-where is she?"

"Ah," he had just realized he'd been sitting at the kitchen table, lost in his dreams of mayhem. He had been oblivious to his surroundings and the time. "I'm not sure. Check up stairs, if she's not there then I honestly have no idea."

Without saying another word, Susan turned around and marched up the stairs. She found her former friend lying on the bed. It looked as if she'd cried herself to sleep. Susan felt no pity for her. She grabbed the sleeping woman by the hair and pulled her upright.

"Oooow!" Nancy yelled waking up with a painful fright. Automatically, her hands reached to free herself, but that just made Susan tighten her grip even more.

"You bitch," she growled as she forcefully jerked her rival's head back and forth with a vengeance.

Nancy's face was scrunched up in pain as she continued trying to free her golden mane from her neighbor's retaliation. With one hard yank Susan pulled the helpless woman toward her and started to slap her on the side of her head.

Nancy brought her hands up in defense to block the blows but didn't try fighting back; she was too demoralized.

"I just threw my worthless husband out of the house. I hope you're happy," Susan spewed as she finally released her battered victim with a hard push backwards.

"I'm so sorry," Nancy spoke in a pathetic sounding voice. "We never meant to hurt anybody."

"Save it," barked Susan. "I just came over to tell you not to ever speak to me again. NEVER, you hear me, bitch ... NEVER! You stay away from me!"

Susan left her contemptible neighbor sitting on the bed and went back down stairs. She noticed Tyler still sitting at the kitchen table. "I don't know what you're going to do, Tyler, but I just kicked my husband out. I ... I just..." She couldn't even complete her thought. There were no words to reduce the pain.

Tyler just looked at her with a blank stare. "Was she up there?"

"Yes, she's in your bedroom. I warned her to stay away from me."

When it looked like he wasn't going to offer anymore, Susan turned and was about to leave when he finally spoke again.

"I wish I had let him die, Susan. That day--if I had known, I would have let him bleed to death."

She knew it was the grief and the anger talking. Tyler was one of the nicest guys she knew. "I doubt that, Tyler. I think I know you better than that. Even if you had known you'd have done the same thing you did."

"Huh," he replied with a sneer. "You think so?"

"Yes ... yes I do. You're too good a person to let someone die, even when that person is your mortal enemy."

Susan had only been gone a little while when Tyler heard the back door fly open.

"Hey, dad, LeAnn said you beat up Mr. Cermak; is that true?"

Chris had been playing at a friend's house down the block but had come home for lunch. His outburst had provoked his dad back to reality once again. He stumbled for a suitable answer.

"I ... ah, I didn't beat him up. I got angry about something he said and knocked him down, that's all. I shouldn't have done it. It's not something I'm proud of."

The explanation did nothing to curb Chris' enthusiasm over bragging rights when he went back to school. "He must have said something really bad to get you that mad. What'd he say?"

"Never mind. That's between him and me. Like I said, Chris, I'm not proud of it so let's just drop it; and don't go spreading it all over the neighborhood, either. This is no one's business-hear me?"

"Yeah," Chris relented, "I hear you."

"What are you doing home, anyway? I thought you were spending the day at Bobby's?"

When Chris told his dad he got hungry, Tyler checked the time. He couldn't believe it was one-thirty in the afternoon. He called LeAnn in and fixed them both some lunch before climbing the stairs.

Nancy was still sitting on the edge of the bed. She had no tears left. She stared into space as her mind churned up lonely, desolate images of her future life. The feeling of another presence in the room struck her with fear as she saw Tyler standing in the doorway.

"I just fixed the kids some lunch. Get cleaned up and join us. They're asking questions. I think it'd be a good idea to at least try to act like things are okay in front of them ... for a little while, anyway," he stated in flat tones.

Before Nancy could respond he turned his back and calmly walked back down stairs. She had known Tyler for sixteen years. He was a warm, compassionate, caring man; not at all like the unemotional, indifferent person who had just spoken to her. A real sense of loss invaded her soul as she teetered to the bathroom to wash her face.

Chris was almost done eating when he realized he hadn't seen his mother. "Where's mom?"

"Right here," she answered, coming into the kitchen. "I was tired so I laid down for a while." Solemnly, Nancy walked to the counter and poured herself a cup of coffee before sitting down.

"Hey, mom, did you hear what dad did to Mr. Cermak?"

"Chris," his father scolded, "I told you to drop it. I don't want to hear any more about it, now I mean it."

"Okay," Chris responded before taking another bite from his sandwich.

LeAnn was quiet throughout lunch and both parents could see the morning's events were still bothering her but no more was said about it until later that night when Tyler and Nancy went to bed.

It was a three bedroom home; Christopher had one, LeAnn had one, and the master. The only other place to sleep, other than in his own bed, was the couch and Tyler wasn't about to start sleeping there. Uncharacteristically, he watched a late movie in hopes his cheating wife would be sound asleep by the time he hit the sack but he could hear her quietly weeping as he started to undress.

He crawled under the sheet and turned his back to her.

"What are you going to do?" she softly asked between sobs.

"Divorce you."

Even through the armor forged by his anger, she could hear the anguish in his words. "I'm sorry, Tyler. I never meant to hurt you. I was just so bored and alone all the time. When Kevin went on nights he started coming over for coffee. We..."

"Shut up and go to sleep, Nancy. I don't care why or how it happened; it happened, that's all that counts."

As far as Tyler was concerned, he was already divorced. It was cut and dry. He would get the ball rolling as soon as he got into the office on Monday. He rolled over on his back again. He never could get comfortable on his side. As he stared at the ceiling, dark thoughts crept their way into his mind; thoughts like no others he'd ever had, thoughts of mayhem. He wondered if he had the balls to kill someone ... well, not just anyone—Kevin. Of course he knew he didn't but just fantasizing about it might help him get to sleep ... it worked.

Sunday was hard on the kids. It was their first inkling that there was real trouble in their wonderful family unit. In the morning they all went to church like usual but neither Tyler nor Nancy did any socializing after the services. Tyler literally ignored the minister as he walked out and to the car. Nancy was right behind him with the kids in tow. She gave a sheepish grin to the stunned reverend as she also passed without a word.

For LeAnn and Chris, Sunday afternoons were tradition. The Sunday paper was always on their front porch when they got home from church. Everyone would go upstairs and change out of their good clothes then their dad and mom would make dinner while Chris and his sister would read the comics. They always laid on the floor, side by side with the paper sprawled out in front of them so Chris could help his little sister with words she didn't understand.

It was always such a warm, loving family atmosphere.

On this particular Sunday, after changing clothes, Tyler emerged from the bedroom alone and closed the door behind him as he went downstairs to start dinner. LeAnn was next to exit her bedroom and just caught sight of her father as he disappeared down the stairs. It was unusual for her parent's bedroom door to be closed. As she quietly approached, she could hear her mother crying on the other side.

Fearfully, her tiny hand reached the doorknob and slowly turned. LeAnn peeked in and saw her mother spread face down, diagonally across the bed. She was still wearing her good clothes.

Nancy didn't even feel her daughter's weight as she sat on the bed. It wasn't until LeAnn tried to comfort her mommy by stroking her long, blond hair, that she was aware of her daughter's presence.

"Oh, LeAnn, what are you doing in here?" she sniveled while trying to wipe her tears away as discreetly as possible.

"Why is daddy so mad?"

Nancy sat up next to her daughter and put her arm around her. "Honey, mommy did something very bad and daddy is mad at me, but only me. Please don't think he's mad at you because he's not ... not at all."

Just then, Chris, who heard voices, came in and sat down on the other side of his mother. "This is about dad beating up Mr. Cermak yesterday, isn't it."

Nancy was at a loss for words. She had no idea how to explain what was going on. She stared into her son's face, trying to think of something to say when Chris almost killed her with his next statement.

"I know what adultery is, mom."

Nancy's hand shot to her mouth and her eyes immediately flooded with new tears. She'd forgotten how much smarter kids were today. In her day there was no internet. People didn't talk as openly about sex like they did today.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry," she blubbered, laying her head on her son's shoulder. Her whole body shook with her sobs while LeAnn hugged her from the other side.

Even though Chris knew the meaning of the word, he was still too young to understand the emotional and psychological implications of adultery. Never having experienced the kind of love one feels for a mate, he didn't understand how deeply the wounds of betrayal could cut into a person's soul. Not reaching manhood yet, he didn't understand the humiliation and heartbreak of feeling like less of a man.

He reached his arm around his mother to try and reassure her. "Dad won't stay mad forever, mom. It'll be alright, you'll see."

Nancy knew the naiveté of her son's words but she wasn't about to dash his hopes. She squeezed both children with the affection only a loving mother could have. "Okay, guys. Go on down stairs now and let me get dressed so I can help your dad with dinner."

The two young-ones scrambled off the bed and headed to the living room. Chris saw the tears in his little sister's eyes.

"Don't worry," he told her while putting his arm around her, "things will work out."

"I hope so," she whimpered back.

"What does a ... adult..."

"Adultery?" Chris said, helping her out.

"Yeah, adultery; what does it mean?"

"Ah, I don't think mom or dad would like me telling you, sis. You should probably ask one of them ... but I'd wait a little while. I ... I really think we should stay out of it. I think dad's going to need some time to get over being mad and I think we should just leave them alone for a while."

"Okay," LeAnn said as they both reached the bottom of the stairs. "I sure hope dad stops being mad, soon."

Tyler tried his very best to be nice to Nancy for the kid's sake and pretty much pulled it off. The day slipped by without incident or a cross word. That night Nancy debated on telling Tyler about her conversation with Chris and LeAnn. She finally decided he should be informed.

"The kids know," she said softly.

"What do you mean, know--know what?"

"They know I was having sex with Kevin," she said with her shame almost dripping from every word.

"How," he said sliding up the bed and bracing his back against the headboard in an agitated action. "I didn't tell them, did you?"

"No, no. Kids today are a lot smarter about things than we were at that age. Chris knew about you beating up Kevin and it's obvious we're having problems ... he put two and two together."

"Shit. What about LeAnn?"

"Chris used the term, adultery, in front of her but I don't think she knows what it means ... not yet anyway. I'm sure it won't take her long, though. Right now she knows there's something seriously wrong but that's all."

"Damn it," he cursed. "I've been trying all day to think of ways to make this easier on the kids ... some way to cushion the blow for them."

His words were discouraging. "That ... that means you're definitely going to file for a divorce?"

"I'm sorry, Nancy. I ... you have no idea what this has done to me. I never thought..."

It was too early for Tyler to talk about it. His thoughts were still incoherent and flashing through his brain like outraged bolts of lightning.

"Just go to sleep, Nancy. I don't want to talk about it," he said while sliding back down into bed and turning his back to her.

The next morning was the first time in all her years as Tyler's secretary that Charlene saw her boss walk in without a big grin on his face. She knew immediately something was wrong; not just because he wasn't smiling but his whole demeanor seemed different.

It had been less than forty-eight hours since learning of his wife's infidelity. Tyler was operating on adrenaline and anger; he couldn't let go of the anger. If he did he would fall to pieces. Right now it was his only defense mechanism.

"Good morning," she cautiously addressed him.

"Good morning, Charlene."

He walked behind his secretary's desk to pour himself a cup of coffee from the pot she always had brewing. She watched him from the corner of her eye as he took a small sip of nectar. He brought the cup down to his waist and held it in both hands while briefly seeming to zone out. Finally he spoke again.

"Char, I found out over the weekend that my wife has been sleeping with another man..."

"Wha ... what? Nancy? Tyler, oh my God, I'm so sor..."

"Can you make some calls and find me a good divorce lawyer, please," he said without letting her finish saying she was sorry.

"Okay, sure," she replied. "Tyler, are ... are you sure?"

"Oh I'm sure. I damn near killed the mother-fucker," he said, walking into his office and closing the door behind him.

Okay, I have work to do, he told himself as he sat down at his desk; but as he looked at the customer file in front of him, he began to wonder how hard and how risky it would be to hire an assassin.

As the day wore on, the mental and consequently physical anguish continued to rip through the souls of all concerned.

Nancy sat at home and stared at the walls for most of the day. She hadn't eaten anything. The way her insides were twisted into knots, there was no way she'd be able to keep anything down. Tears flowed from her eyes again and again as she wondered how many more loved ones would be hurt by her adultery. There was no question her parents and the kids would suffer. Her selfishness was about to change the lives of everyone she held dear.

Why ... why did she let it happen? She wasn't a kid. She knew what they were doing was wrong--but at the time it just seemed so exciting. It offered her a little thrill in her hum-drum existence. Not that the sex was thrilling, it was extremely mediocre. It was the danger, the threat of being discovered; of course the threat was just perceived—it wasn't real; no way would they ever be discovered. She had to face it; they did it because both she and Kevin thought they'd get away with it. At some point, Kevin would go back on days and it would be over with no one ever being the wiser. In years to come, when she was feeling lonely and depressed she'd be able to look back at her secret little affair and smile with the knowledge that she was naughty and got away with it. Only it didn't work out like that.

While Nancy sat, pondering the loss of the man she loved, Susan was having similar notions ... but from a different perspective. Try as she did to concentrate, her mind kept drifting to thoughts of Kevin and her back-stabbing neighbor. She couldn't get over the humiliation of having Nancy in her home while Kevin was convalescing; the private joke they shared as they laughed at her behind her back. Vehemently, she fought back tears. She had already made up her mind that a cheating husband wasn't worth crying over, but that was easier said than done. She still loved him. Maybe in time it would wear off but she couldn't just stop loving him. As she reached for the box of tissues on her desk she noticed the time. Where ever he was, her soon to be ex would be getting ready for work.

Kevin stepped out of the motel shower and jumped at the sound of a car door slamming outside his room. He had been drunk most of the weekend and hadn't realized how much on edge he was until that moment. Still naked, he rushed to the window and peeked through the blinds to make sure it wasn't Tyler. His hand trembled as he bent the blind open just enough to watch a stranger pull his suitcase from the backseat of a company owned Chevy and head for the room next to his. False alarm this time, he thought, but he remembered the hate in Tyler's eyes and was convinced that someday he'd come after him.

He'd never been hated by anyone before—not like that. It was disturbing to know there was someone in the world who hated him enough to want to kill him. He had no idea what to do. He couldn't go through the rest of his life looking over his shoulder...

Damn, he told himself, I'm getting paranoid. Tyler doesn't even know where I am. I don't think he'd really try to kill me ... I ... I don't think...

While all this was going on, Tyler finally decided hiring an assassin was too risky; besides, he'd want to be there. He'd want to watch the light go out in Kevin's eyes. He sighed; she's right, he told himself, I couldn't do it anyway.

"Tyler," called the voice of his secretary through the intercom. "I have a recommendation for a divorce lawyer. His name is Lou Hunt. I have it on good authority that he's an excellent attorney. Do you want me to set up an appointment?"

"Ah, yeah, thanks, Char; that'll be great, the sooner the better."

At one o'clock that very afternoon, Tyler sat in the presence of an elderly, white haired man who appeared to know marital law like the back of his hand. For two hours they discussed every aspect of what he could look forward to. He told his attorney what he wanted and in response, his attorney told him what he could expect. Tyler didn't think anything he heard sounded unreasonable and instructed the wise man to draw up the paperwork. As soon as it was ready he would present it to his wife and sit down to discuss the terms of the agreement with her.

After returning to the office he had a short conversation with a very concerned Charlene.

"How did it go?" she asked.

She had worked for him for years. She was more than a colleague, she was a friend. In fact, he and Nancy had gone out with her and her husband, Brad, on several occasions and they always got a table together at company parties.

"It went okay," he replied, then stopped and thought for a second. "You know—part of me wants revenge. Part of me wants to make her life miserable and cut her off from getting a penny in the divorce, but I can't do that. I have to think of the kids. I want to make the transition as easy as possible for them and forcing them into an apartment somewhere ... having them watch their mother trying to scrimp and save to meet the bills every month isn't the way to do it.

"We came up with what I think is a fair settlement. She'll have to work. I'm done paying for her to sit at home so she can screw other men, but the kids will be able to stay in the house, keep their friends, and go to the same school. It'll be pretty expensive for me, at least for a while, but it's nothing I can't handle."

"I ... I just find this so hard to believe," lamented his secretary with a sigh. "If there's anything Brad or I can do..."

"Thanks, Char; I wish there was but there's nothing anyone can do at this point." With those parting words he turned and disappeared behind his office door.

The rest of the day was pretty productive. Tyler was able to focus better now that he seemed to be getting control of things again. Between the work flow, he thought about the kids and decided it would be better to tell them over the weekend. That way they'd have a day or two before having to go back to school.

Next he thought about an apartment. There was a new complex that opened a couple months earlier. He drove right by it on his way to work every day. It was about half-way between work and his home ... perfect. He decided he'd stop in on his lunch hour later in the week and see what they had to offer.

Char poked her head in the doorway. "Tyler, it's almost five. Is there anything you need before I go?"

In disbelief, he glanced at the clock on his desk. The day seemed to be over before it started. "No thanks, Char, everything's good. I'll see you tomorrow."

She told him again how sorry she was and reiterated she was there if he needed her, then retreated back to her office, covered her computer screen and left for home.

Tyler wasn't so anxious. Home wasn't home anymore. It was just a place to eat and sleep. Well, that wasn't exactly true. He still got to play with the kids. He took a deep sigh and tried to relax. Tyler needed somewhere to think but drowning his sorrows in some bar just wasn't his style. He wanted solitude; someplace where he could be alone with his thoughts.

He remembered a small patch of rocky beach along Lake Michigan where he used to go as a kid. He wondered if it was still there, then he wondered if he could even find it again. Hell, he thought, even if I could find it everything is probably all built up around there. I doubt it still offers the seclusion it once did. Still...

Tyler found a safe place to park the car and got out to look around. He spotted only two homes that he didn't remember. To his surprise the field was still there and the sounds of the surf just beyond the ridge took him back twenty-five years. For a few minutes he forgot why he was there. Almost child-like he trekked through the tall, windswept grass until he stood atop the crest leading down to the shore. God, he said to himself, it's still there—just like it was so many years ago.

He leaned to one side and steadied himself with his hand as he made his way down the steep decline. It was almost as if he was frozen in time. Tyler climbed up on the big rock and sat just as he'd done as boy. He closed his eyes and felt the breeze wafting from the lake and blowing through his hair. The only sound was the surf lapping at the rocks and the air had a clean, fresh scent.

It was the first time since Saturday that Tyler was able to push aside his anger and be human again. He slumped back against the hard granite and looked down at the water's foam pushing its way up the sand. He thought back to happier times. An unconscious smile stretch across his lips as he remembered seeing his son wrapped in his mother's arms for the very first time.

A tidal wave of memories followed. They had built such a full, wonderful life together; a life of love and passion, of happiness and sorrows, of defeats and triumphs, a life he envisioned that they would continue to build and share until the end of their days.

For a moment he became annoyed with himself for allowing his anger to fade—its absence created a void, a void that grief, disappointment, self-doubt, humiliation, and heartache rushed to fill. He dropped his head in his hands and sobbed.

It was a little after eight o'clock by the time Tyler returned home.

"Daddy, daddy, you're late," LeAnn announced as she ran up and jumped into her father's arms. "Mommy was worried about you."

"She was? Well, daddy's a big boy, you know. It's okay for him to be late once in a while," he said jokingly. "Did you do your homework?"

"Yup," she happily replied, "it's all done. Mommy helped me."

"She did? She's such a nice mommy, isn't she."

LeAnn nodded her head emphatically.

Still holding his young daughter, Tyler wrinkled his nose and made her laugh by nuzzling behind her ear while making grunting noises. It was almost a ritual—one he was going to miss tremendously.

He set LeAnn down and walked into the kitchen. Chris was sitting at the table, hovering over his own homework.

"How was your day," asked Tyler as he laid a hand on his son's shoulder.

"It was okay. I got a "B" on that algebra test."

"Great job, you need any help with what you're working on?" Tyler proudly asked.

"No thanks, dad, I've got it covered."

Tyler playfully mussed his son's hair as he looked up at his nervous wife. She gave him a small smile. "Are you hungry? I just put dinner away but I can warm it up in no time."

"Just a little," he replied. "I'm not very hungry."

Later, that evening he made sure he read LeAnn's favorite bedtime story to her. As he finished and bent down to kiss her goodnight, his heart saddened knowing how precious those moments would be in the future.

When Tyler returned to the living room he found Nancy on the couch. He walked over and sat beside her. He bowed his head and spoke quietly.

"I ... I don't understand. You, LeAnn, Chris—you're my whole world. In all the years we've know each other, I've never once put you or the kids second in my life ... never. Why? Is he so much better in bed? Is that it? I ... I know I said I didn't care before but I have to know why."

Nancy was overwhelmed with guilt and remorse. Again, tears flooded her eyes as her mind spun with pain from her husband's caustic plea for an explanation.

"Oh please, please, Tyler, stop, I beg you," she cried softly. "No, no, no, he wasn't better in bed, in fact ... Oh God Tyler, I never meant to hurt you ... NEVER!" she emphasized. "You have to believe that. I love you! I love you so very much."

"That's what you keep saying, Nancy, but your actions say something different. We made a commitment to each other--forsake all others; remember? We swore and oath to each other. We swore to love, honor, and cherish one another until death do us part; having an affair, screwing other men--what kind of way is that to honor my love for you? I ... I..."

For the second time he felt his eyes welling with pain. He looked away from his wife just in time for a lonely tear to break free and start to trickle down his face. Tyler quickly rubbed it away.

"I love you too, Nancy; and when this is all over I'm sure I'll still love you, but you've broken the trust, the bond between us that says we belong to each other and no one else. God, Nancy, you broke my heart--whether you meant to or not, you did. I have to know why. I have to know how it happened."

She took a deep breath and hoped she could explain things in a way that would spare her husband as much pain as possible. "Tyler, I've done so much soul searching and it's still hard for even me to understand. It wasn't any one thing. I think it was a lot of little things.

"Kevin started coming over when they put him on nights. At first I think it was just to have somebody listen to him bitch. He hated the night shift and for the first few days all he did was vent. After a while, he learned to live with it but was still coming over two or three times a week. I enjoyed his company and started looking forward to his visits. I was so lonely and he was someone to talk to ... an adult. This went on for a couple of weeks, Tyler, and it was all very innocent."


"Yes, in the beginning there was no thought of doing anything, at least not on my end."

Tyler broke in. "If that was true then why didn't you tell me he was coming over? You never ever mentioned it."

"I know. I thought about telling you but you never seemed to really like him. You were neighborly but it was more like you just tolerated him; not to mention the fact that I knew how you would feel about me being alone with a man in the house. I was afraid you'd tell him not to come over anymore.

"Now I wish that had been exactly how it played out, but at the time I saw nothing wrong with having some company during the day. We talked about family life, world affairs, politics, local issues ... anything and everything. But then he started talking about sex and what he and Susan did in the bedroom. I told him it was none of my business but he seemed to dwell on it. He liked to brag about how many times he could get her to cum and how long he could last. I was very uncomfortable with the conversations at first, but after a while it just kind of became part of our regular repertoire.

"Then he started making crude remarks about me. According to him they were compliments. He'd say things like I had a really fine ass, and my tits were to die for ... things like that. Then he got even more brazen and started telling me what he'd like to do to me in bed. I should have stopped it, I know. It wasn't right to let a man talk to me like that, but ... well, I've never had anyone talk to me like that before. It just seemed like a little naughty fun and we weren't really hurting anyone."

Tyler was having a hard time listening but it was what he needed to hear. "You had to know what he was leading up to, Nancy."

"No ... well, I guess maybe I did in the back of my mind, but I just figured I wouldn't let it go that far. Then one day I was wiping off the counter with my back to him. I was wearing a pair of shorts, nothing sexy—I think it was my green ones. You've seen them, there's nothing sexy about them. Anyway, Kevin snuck up behind me. I didn't even know he was there until he reached around and slid his hand down my shorts and inside my panties. I tried to struggle but he had me pinned up against the counter. I yelled at him, I warned him to stop but instead he took his other hand and undid the button on the side and pulled the zipper down so he had more room. He had his hand all way down to my crotch and was fingering me. It ... it was like I was in shock, I couldn't believe what was happening. For a minute I thought he was going to rape me.

"I finally got my wits about me again and managed to pull his hand out of my pants. Then I got enough room to turn around and slap him ... hard. He got angry and stormed out without saying a word. I ... I thought of telling you but you would have just gone over there and beat the crap out of him and I didn't want to cause trouble between him and Susan so I didn't say anything."

Nancy heard her husband sigh but so far he was still listening so she continued.

"The first week he didn't come back I thought good riddens, but by the second week I was starting to miss his company. The third week I was really feeling lonely again. Even with all the crude talk I missed our conversations. After a month I was sorry I slapped him.

"After five or six weeks, I was sitting at the kitchen table feeling sorry for myself again when I heard the front door. I looked up and saw Kevin walking in. He didn't even knock. I didn't realize it but I'm sure I must have been smiling because he knew I was glad to see him. I think it made him just all that much bolder. He sat down and asked for a cup of coffee. I put a cup on the table in front of him and started to pour. When I did he reached out and started to run his hand up my leg, under my dress.

"I stepped back and told him he can't do that. It was wrong, we were both married. He told me to look around. He said the kids were in school, all the neighbors were at work; who the hell was ever going to know. He grabbed ahold of my dress and pulled me closer. I knew if I stopped him again he'd leave and probably not come back. I was so torn as to what to do. I tried to do the right thing, I really did. I told him if he didn't behave himself he'd have to leave but somehow he knew it was an empty threat. In the end I just stood there while he felt me up.

"I'm so sorry, Tyler," she said as she started to cry again. "I ... I know I never should have let him do that. I just couldn't bear the thought of being all alone again, so..."

"So you let him fuck you," Tyler said, finishing her sentence for her.

Nancy just nodded her head as the tears flowed. "Be ... before I knew it," she said between sobs, "I was bending over the table with Kevin taking me from behind." With that she broke out blubbering uncontrollably.

Tyler got up and headed for the kitchen to get her some water. As he stood at the sink waiting for the glass to fill he wondered if that had been the only time they'd fucked. If so maybe he could forgive her, maybe they could find a way back to each other ... maybe with help ... counseling...

On the way back into the living room he thought about asking her if it was only that once, but he wasn't sure she wouldn't lie to him. Quickly he came up with a better plan; one that would probably render the truth. Tyler returned to his crying wife's side. "Here, drink some water," he said, handing her the glass.

Nancy took a few sips and dried her eyes. She was starting to calm down.

"So, that was the first time then things escalated from there," he stated, not as a question but as a matter of fact. He held his breath, hoping she would refute his assumption of more fuck sessions but his last ounce of hope was dashed as he watched her slowly nodding her head.

"That night I felt so guilty. I swore I'd never let Kevin touch me again..."

"Then why did you? My God, woman, how could you keep fucking him like that?"

"I don't know. Like I said, it was a bunch of things. As ashamed and guilty as I felt, I had built up some resentment about you not letting me work. Even though you were never to find out, in my own mind it was a way of punishing you—getting back at you. I told myself I had been vulnerable and it was your fault. There was something else, too. I had never had anyone be that aggressive with me ... to just take me sexually like that. There was a sense of daring. We had done something evil and had gotten away with it. It was like taking a bite of the apple," she replied.

"Apple ... what apple, what the hell are you talking about?" he asked, desperately trying to understand her motives.

"The forbidden fruit—like in Adam and Eve. It ... it was ... I don't know ... intoxicating in a way. Even though we knew we would never get caught there was always that small element of danger involved. It made it exciting."

"But you did get caught, didn't you," he said with the pain returning in his voice.

His sad statement brought on another round of tears as Nancy validated his statement by nodding her head again.

"That day he cut himself brought it all home. I stood there watching and thought of how ironic it was for you to be saving the life of the man who was screwing your wife. I asked myself how I could have betrayed you like that. The guilt was overbearing. When we got back to the house, I was having a tough time holding it together. I knew I'd never let him touch me again and I thought he'd have enough of a conscience to think the same way. I couldn't believe it when he said he wanted to pick up where we left off. Then, when you came flying off the porch like that and I knew you had heard us, I wanted to die. I can't even image how deeply I've hurt you, Tyler. God--that was the last thing in the world I ever wanted to happen."

"You do realize there's no going back from this, Nancy."

Her shoulders slumped, her head bowed, and her eyes closed with the sound of her happy home-life coming to a close. "I know," was all she could manage to get out.

"I wasn't going to mention it until I had the papers in my hand but there's no sense in stalling. I saw a lawyer today. We hashed out a settlement that I think is more than fair, under the circumstances."

Nancy broke into hysterics, brought her knees to her chest and slumped to the corner of the couch in the fetal position. It was the moment of truth for both of them. There was no more to be said.

Unknown to the two miserable souls in the living room, there was one more heart that was crushed at that moment, it belonged to their twelve year old son who had been listening from the stairwell.

About the only thing Tyler accomplished the next day at work was to rent an apartment on his lunch hour. It was a little more money than he was looking to spend but it was all new construction, had a big, beautiful indoor pool, and the units were spacey. He was hoping for a three bedroom so LeAnn and Chris would each have their own room but all they had were two bedrooms. Tyler decided Chris would have his own room and LeAnn could sleep in his bed. He'd sleep on the couch when they came over. A wave of depression overtook him as Tyler drove out of the complex realizing he was now one step closer to dissolving his marriage.

On his way home he found it hard to keep his mind on driving. He kept wishing there was some way to turn the clock back. Of course as soon as he walked in the door LeAnn greeted her dad with open arms. He picked her up and forced a broad smile before giving his pumpkin a kiss on the cheek.

"How's my princess today?" he asked, staring into her angelic face.

"Fine," she replied wrapping her arms around his neck and giving him a big squeeze.

He looked around for Chris but didn't see him. Just then Nancy walked in from the kitchen.

"Where's Chris?"

"He's up in his room. I don't know if he doesn't feel well or he senses something but he's been awful quiet. It probably wouldn't hurt to go up and see what's bothering him."

"I'll do it right now," he said, setting LeAnn down. "Honey, why don't you go and help your mother set the table while daddy goes up stairs, okay?"

While his daughter ran in the kitchen to help her mom, Tyler climbed the stairs and knocked on his son's door. When he heard Chris' voice he entered.

"Hey, son, your mother says you've been really quiet. She's wondering if you're sick."

Chris was lying in bed, staring at the ceiling. He didn't even look at his dad as he answered. "No, I'm okay."

Nancy was right; something was wrong. Tyler walked over and sat on the edge of the bed. He looked Chris in the face. "Come on, Chris, out with it. What's wrong? Did something happen at school?"

"No," Chris snapped back, "I told you, nothing..." his eyes shifted to look at this dad. "What do you think is wrong? You and mom are getting a divorce. I heard you talking last night. Am I supposed to feel good about that?" he asked with cynicism.

"Oh, Chris, I'm so sorry you heard us. I was going to break it to you and your sister as gently as I could, Saturday after breakfast. Please don't tell LeAnn anything yet."

"Why," asked Chris, his eyes clouding with tears. "I know you're mad but you'll get over it sometime. Why do you have to get a divorce? Why can't you just forgive her? I know you could if you tried hard enough." Chris threw his arms around his dad and the two embraced like they hadn't in years. By the time they broke apart, Chris wasn't the only one with blurry vision.

He had to somehow make Chris understand. "Chris, I wish it was that easy, son, I really do. I know she didn't mean to hurt me but she did, very much."

Chris felt he had to defend his mom. "I know. She had sex with Mr. Cermak, but that doesn't mean she doesn't love you anymore."

"I know, Chris, I know she loves me, and I love her..."

"Then why can't you stay together," interjected the desperate twelve year old.

His son's plea was breaking his heart. How was he ever going to make him understand? "Chris, sometimes love isn't enough. There are other factors that make up a marriage. Making love is the purest, most intimate and personal way for two people to share and express their devotion for each other. It forges a bond that says 'I belong to you and no one else.' When one of them breaks that bond, when one of them has sex with someone else they can no longer claim they are exclusive to one another and that intimacy is lost forever."

Chris continued to argue. "Dad, it doesn't make sense. You still love each other. You just told me that."

"Son, it's because I love your mother so much that makes what she did hurt so bad. I know, like I said, I know she didn't mean to, but every time I look at her I'm reminded of what she did and the hurt and the anger comes right back. Whenever I think about her and Kevin together it feels like my heart is going to shatter into a million pieces. I can't go through the rest of my life like that, Chris, I can't."

He was starting to see some understanding in his son's face. Now he had to try and boost his spirits if he could. "I'm going to be living just a couple miles down the street. When you need me you just call and I'll be here within minutes. I'm always going to be your dad, but there will be changes. Your mother is going to have to get a job so you'll be the man of the house. Think you can handle that?"

Chris assured his dad he would accept whatever responsibility was expected of him. Again they hugged—each one trying to reassure the other.

"I am so proud of you," bragged Tyler. "Come on; let's go see what mom made for dinner."

For the next few days, even LeAnn's childlike enthusiasm for life couldn't penetrate the somber atmosphere that loomed. On Thursday, after the kids were in bed, Tyler called Nancy to the kitchen table. He had warned her about the meeting and what it was about earlier in the evening so her eyes were already glistening with tears before she even sat down.

Tyler pulled the divorce papers from his briefcase and started going over everything that the lawyer and he had worked out. After explaining everything to her in detail, Nancy agreed that he was being more than generous. Now the only thing that remained was breaking it to LeAnn.

When Tyler walked into his office the following day he looked even more despondent than he had all week. In a sad voice, he greeted Charlene and started to pour a cup of coffee; his usual routine before disappearing behind his door for another day in the trenches.

"Do you want to talk?" asked Char.

He thought for a moment before answering. Other than the brief exchange between him and Charlene on Monday, the only person he talked to was the damn lawyer ... maybe it was time to get it off his chest. "Why don't you grab yourself a cup of coffee, Char, and come on in—and close the door behind you," he told her as he turned in the direction of his office.

A couple minutes later she took a seat opposite Tyler's desk and allowed him to start.

"I just wish I was a different person, Char. I ... I wish there was some way I could look past all this ... forgive and forget, you know."

Charlene took a sip of her coffee but didn't say anything yet. She was there to listen, not give advice.

"This is going to be so hard on the kids. Chris already knows what's going on but we haven't told LeAnn yet." Tyler looked off into space with a blank stare. "God, Char," he said, shaking his head. "I just can't believe she did this to us."

He was in so much pain Charlene had to at least try... "Tyler, this divorce is obviously something no one wants. It's only been a week. Maybe you should take more time to think things over when you're not hurting so bad. Have you considered marriage counseling? Something ... anything; this is tearing you up inside, I can only imagine the way Nancy feels."

"Believe me, Char," he commented with a slight sigh. "I've thought, and thought, and thought about counseling. If I believed it'd do any good I wouldn't hesitate, but she didn't just screw that son-of-a-bitch once, she did it again and again. She was getting off knowing she was getting away with it; the forbidden apple she called it. She told me that even though neither of them ever thought they'd get caught, there was still a touch of danger involved. That's what made the sex so exciting. How could I ever trust her again? I know she regrets it all now, but if we stayed together, what about next year, or the year after. What if she craves that excitement again? No," he said shaking his head, "I couldn't live with that hanging over my head, Char.

"If she had too much to drink and has sex with him because of it, or even if he had caught her at a vulnerable moment of some kind..." He let his words hang while he fought to keep his emotions under control. "I ... I just keep reliving the way I felt when I heard them talking in the yard. Char, I'd never felt so crushed in my life ... so lost. I don't think I've ever been so angry either. Here I save the guy's life and..."

"Oh my God," Charlene almost screamed. "Him? That's who Nancy was sleeping with? The guy whose life you saved?"

"Yeah. He lives right across the street. He works nights so he was coming over to the house when everyone else was at work."

"No wonder they thought they'd never get caught," Char commented.

"Exactly," replied Tyler. "He came over last Saturday to tell Nancy the doctor gave him the okay to start screwing her again. They couldn't see me. I was behind the screen door and overheard the whole thing. I damn near killed the S.O.B. right in the front yard."

Charlene sighed. She knew her boss well enough to know he couldn't accept Nancy's cheating. She felt so helpless. What could she do to ease his pain ... nothing. "When are you going to tell LeAnn?"

This time Tyler sighed deeply. "Tomorrow," he answered. "I figure that will give her a couple days to grieve before going back to school."

"Did you tell me there was a pool at the complex where you rented the apartment?"

"Yeah, it's indoors too. The kids will be able to enjoy it all year," remarked Tyler.

Char had an idea. "Why not bring them over there tomorrow. Let Chris and LeAnn look around—go swimming. Then you can tell LeAnn she can stay there on weekends. Maybe she won't take so hard."

For the first time all day, a smile stretched across Tyler's face. "Char, that's a great idea," he responded, then stopped to think. "I kind of want Nancy there though when I tell her. LeAnn will probably want the comforting arms of her mother."

"Well, bring her along. Is there any reason why you don't want Nancy to see the apartment?"

"No--well I don't have any furniture yet, but other than that ... Yeah, that's a good idea. Thanks, Char."

Tyler told Nancy the plan after the kids went to bed that night. She liked it too, so the next morning, after breakfast Tyler announced they were all going for a ride in the car and told the kids to grab their swimming suits. Chris had a good idea what was coming but LeAnn had no clue and was all excited. On the way over, it struck Tyler that it would probably be one of the last things they did as a family. He fought hard against letting his tears show in front of his kids.

Tyler gave everyone a short tour of the complex, first. There were tennis courts and permanently mounted gas grills in a little park area. He used his key to take them into the clubhouse where the pool was. Both LeAnn and Chris were impressed.

"Who wants to go swimming?" asked their dad.

"Me," LeAnn answered excitedly.

"Okay. You guys have to change into your suits. Follow me."

Tyler walked everyone across a small, open area and into one of the buildings. Again he used his key to gain access to apartment one-twenty three. LeAnn wondered why her dad had the keys to the place but she was too excited about the pool to ask at the moment.

He let the kids use the empty bedrooms to change then they were off. They had the whole place completely to themselves as Tyler and Nancy sprawled out in the folding lounge chairs alongside the pool and watched as their children enjoyed themselves.

"Who's going tell her?" asked a sad and worried mother.

"I'll do it," answered Tyler. "I have some paper plates and cups in the kitchen cabinets and pop in the fridge. I thought I'd call out for pizza when the kids are done swimming and we could just sit on the floor in the living room—like a picnic. I'll tell her after we eat. I want to try and show her we can still have a good time together."

As carefully as Tyler had things laid out, it didn't go as planned. Before the young inquisitive girl even shed her wet bathing suit, her curiosity caught up to her. "Daddy, who lives here?" LeAnn asked after returning to the apartment.

This was the dreaded moment all parents fear; the moment when you have to tell your child something you know will break their heart. Tyler took a deep breath and glanced at his wife as he mustered all the courage he could.

Nancy found it hard to contain her own emotions as she caught the expression of her soon-to-be ex and could literally see the pain racing through his veins.

"Well, princess," he started, "I'm going to be living here and you and your brother can come over on the weekends and play in the pool and..."

"NO, NO DADDY, I WON'T LET YOU. YOU HAVE TO STAY WITH US ... YOU HAVE TO!" she yelled while running up and throwing her arms around his waist. Immediately LeAnn's eyes overflowed. Even at the tender age of eight, she knew there were problems between her mom and dad but Chris told her it would be alright and she believed him.

Chris wiped the moisture from his eyes. "Dad, dad please; can't you and mom make up?"

Nancy had to turn her back on the heartbreaking scene. She grabbed a tissue from her purse to wipe away her own tears.

Tyler hugged his little girl and silently prayed for understanding from his kids. He wasn't sure what was worse, the way he felt when he heard Kevin talking the other day, or the way he felt at the present moment. Either way, once more his soul was being ripped from his chest.

Regaining her composure, Nancy went down on one knee and called to her daughter. "Come here, baby."

LeAnn turned and ran to the arms of her mother. Nancy could feel her young body shake as she sobbed. "It's going to be alright, honey. You're going to see your dad almost as much as you do now. He's still your dad, honey. He's always going to be you dad, that'll never change."

Chris took the opportunity to run over and hug his father.

For the next thirty minutes they all cried, hugged, and assured each other things will be okay. Tyler promised he would stop by the house now and then and have dinner with them. He pledged he'd always be available for help with homework or anything else they needed him for, and assured them he was not abandoning them.

Tyler finally got the pizza ordered and by the time it arrived everyone had calmed down but the air dripped of sadness.

"When are you moving, dad?" asked Chris on the way back to the house.

"Well, I ordered two new beds but I'll have to find some used furniture. I can't afford to buy all new. The beds will be delivered on Tuesday. I saw a used couch and bedroom set in the paper I thought I'd go check out tomorrow. So, I guess I'll move in as soon as the place becomes livable," he told them.

"Can LeAnn and I go with you tomorrow?"


And so started the transition from a happy family to a broken home; the process was slow and painful. Many nights, as they lay in bed trying to get to sleep, unknowingly to all, LeAnn and Chris joined their mother in silent prayers that they would somehow become a family again, but as time passed the prayers gave way to acceptance.

The papers were filed. Tyler was all moved into his own apartment. Now it was just a matter of time. Nancy was determined to stand on her own two feet as soon as possible. She had screwed up. The breakup of her marriage was no one's fault but her own; she knew it and was taking responsibility for it. She was not going to allow herself to be a burden on Tyler.

His settlement offer included paying for some college courses so she could get a head start landing a job. She gladly accepted his offer to help her find the right courses and an accredited school. Together they found a course called, "Business Management & Administration." The curriculum was well rounded but also very extensive and Tyler wondered if she could handle it. He was sure he'd be over to help three people with their homework instead of two.

Nancy signed up, but classes didn't start for another six weeks. She was desperate to find something to do in the meantime. If she had to stay home with nothing to do but think of how she betrayed her husband and ruined her marriage she'd go mad.

Across the street, Susan Cermak, in spite of her husband's begging for mercy, was also in the process of a divorce. Kevin tried calling her several times at work and even came to the house a few times to basically plead temporary insanity. He swore he was a changed man but Susan wasn't buying it. When his constant appeals for reconciliation became too much for her, Sue slapped him with a restraining order.

Kevin was a beaten man. He'd lost the only woman who ever loved him. Spending the weekends at the bar across the street from the motel where he was still staying was now common-place and the number of drinks he consumed during that time was increasing.

On top of it all he could still feel Tyler's fingers around his throat. He remembered how it felt to gasp for a breath and the look in Tyler's eyes still haunted his nightmares. He was growing more and more paranoid, believing Tyler was still planning to kill him. On his way home from work one day, he bought a gun and started sleeping with it under his pillow.

As the weeks passed, routines started to take form. Nancy started school and got home every day about the same time as the kids, but her time with them was short. She had found a job waitressing in a little restaurant near the industrial end of town. She started out working days but most of the factories had a second shift so as soon as she started classes she was able to change her hours. The night-time lunch rush was from seven to nine in the evening so she filled in from six to eleven, Monday through Friday. The place didn't look like much, but in fact, Nancy made pretty good money.

It actually couldn't have worked out better because Tyler came over and spent the evening with the kids while Nancy was at work. Of course Chris and LeAnn would have loved to have their parents back together but they were happy with the arrangement because they got to see both their mom and dad a lot.

It didn't happen too often but traffic was light so Nancy actually beat the kids home from school. She stopped quickly at the edge of the drive and grabbed the mail before heading inside. She dropped several envelopes on the kitchen table and made a B-line for the coffee maker—after a pretty rough day in school she needed it badly.

While the pot was brewing that magic elixir she sat down to see if the mailman brought anything of importance. Junk-mail, junk-mail ... Suddenly her hand froze. She felt as if an arrow had pierced her heart. There it was; in big, bold letters. The return address was, 'Clerk of the Circuit Court of Cook County.' Her hands shook as she opened it and unfolded its contents. It was the last nail in her coffin. Her marriage was officially over.

Even after all those months it hit her hard. Nancy dropped her face into her hands and started to sob, heavily. She was still at it when LeAnn and Chris walked in.

"Mom," LeAnn yelled.

"Mom, what's wrong," followed Chris.

They both surrounded her with hugs.

Nancy was embarrassed and angry that she let her children find her like that. She immediately wiped away the tears and tried pulling herself together.

"I ... I'm sorry, kids," she said while quickly refolding the bad news. "I just felt a little sad, that's all. It's nothing—really," she said, trying her best to reassure their concerns. When she stood up she gathered the mail together, sliding the important piece underneath the pile to hide it. "I'm going to run upstairs and change, guys." When she looked back she saw the worry that lingered in their faces. She forced a small smile. "I'm okay ... honest."

Nancy dropped everything on her dresser and closed her bedroom door. She sat on the edge of the bed and took a couple deep breaths. She knew it was going to happen. It wasn't like she still held any hope. She'd lived with the knowledge and the consequences of her actions for months. It was just ... just that it was now so final. She bowed her head and moisture welled up in her eyes again. "Tyler, I'm so sorry," she mumbled to herself. "I'm so very, very sorry."

The distraught woman took a shower then stiffened her backbone to go down and face her kids. After dinner, Tyler showed up and Nancy left for work.

"Mommy was crying today," blabbed LeAnn as she snuggled into her dad on the couch.

"She was? What was she crying about?"

"This," Chris said, handing his dad a piece of paper.

"Where'd you get this?" inquired Tyler.

"It was on mom's dresser. I know I shouldn't have snooped but I wanted to see what made her so sad."

Tyler unfolded it and looked. "Oh," he commented with a little sadness himself. "I haven't gotten mine yet. It'll probably be in tomorrow's mail."

"What is it," LeAnn asked.

"It just says that mommy and daddy are officially divorced, honey. It doesn't change anything though. Don't worry, everything will be the same as it has been for the last few months."

Nancy was working the counter and just pouring coffee for one of the regulars when she saw him walk in. She almost didn't recognize him. He had put on a lot of weight, most of which was hanging over his belt buckle. His hair was shaggy and looked like it hadn't been cut in a month or more. His face was puffy and he had dark circles under his eyes. She knew he worked around there somewhere and figured it was only a matter of time before she ran into him.


"Hello, Kevin," she said, handing him a menu before walking away to attend to other patrons.

He was pleasantly surprised. In spite of his fear of Tyler, he couldn't let an opportunity like this slip through his fingers. He hadn't been laid in months and he knew from experience that Nancy was a sure thing.

She stalled as long as she could but he was sitting at her customer and she couldn't ignore him forever. "Have you decided?" she asked without looking him in the face.

"Yeah ... I've decided you could be a little nicer. Why so unfriendly; is that anyway to treat your lover?"

"Kevin, you were never my lover..."

"Don't give me that," he said, cutting her off. "I know damn well you haven't forgotten about all the great sex we had. Hell, I fucked you better than that husband of yours ever did. In fact, since both of our better halves dumped us, I think we should pick up where we left off?"

"We were never lovers and your bedroom skills wouldn't make a pimple on Tyler's ass," she told him, this time more forcefully. "You were a distraction to fill some lonely and boring days, nothing more. Letting you touch me was the worst decision I ever made and I'll be paying for it for the rest of my life. Maybe it's too late to fix my marriage but I'll never let you touch me again ... never. Just the thought of you putting your hands on me makes my skin crawl."

"Bullshit," he replied, leaning forward and lowering his voice. "You can't tell me you didn't enjoy it," he sneered.

Nancy turned and was about to walk away without saying another word when Kevin grabber her arm. "Hey, don't walk away from me, damn it," he snarled.

Lou, the owner of the restaurant, was just coming from the back room when he spotted the commotion. "Hey," he yelled, heading quickly to rescue his waitress, "take your hand off of her."

Kevin made a big show of releasing Nancy's arm. "Fuck this place. I think I'll go eat somewhere else," he angrily blustered.

"Good idea," Lou replied indignantly, "and don't come back."

Nancy was a little shaken and wondered how she ever succumbed to Kevin's sexual advances. "Thanks, Lou."

He could see the imprint from where Kevin had grabbed her. "What was that about?"

"He was a mistake from my past. He wanted to rekindle something we never had in the first place and didn't want to take no for an answer."

"You okay?"

Nancy nodded with gratitude, thanked her boss again, and returned to her duties. It just wasn't her night, she thought; first the letter from the court and now Kevin ... what next?

She didn't tell Tyler about the run-in with his nemesis. She wasn't sure what he'd do and didn't want him going after the jackass again. She just hoped she'd seen the last of him.

For the next month or so, things ran fairly smooth; then came the holidays. Tyler hadn't any plans for Thanksgiving. His folks lived half way across the country and Nancy was taking the kids to her parent's house. He wasn't much of a football fan but there was a British murder mystery marathon on PBS ... hey, he told himself, it was better than nothing. He had also bought a turkey TV dinner for the occasion.

When Tyler returned the kids that prior weekend Nancy was waiting at the door. She braved the cold and ran out to the car with her arms wrapped around her body for warmth. She didn't want to take a chance of him driving off before she could talk to him.

When he saw her coming he rolled down the window of the car as the kids got out and ran into the house.

"Tyler, could you come in for just a minute. I wanted to ask you something but it's freezing out here," Nancy said between chattering teeth.

He followed her inside. The kids had already run up to their rooms to unpack. Nancy was hoping they'd still be downstairs. If she couldn't convince him she knew they could.

"Tyler, do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?"

"Ah, no-not really; I was thinking of driving up to my folks but I can't get Friday off and it's too far to make that round trip in one day."

"Well, my mom and dad wanted me to invite you to have dinner with us. They haven't seen you since..." she stopped. She didn't even want to think about that terrible day..."well, in a long time." She was hoping he'd accept. She still hadn't given up on getting him back and was praying a family holiday dinner might start him thinking.

He hesitated while thinking it over. It would sure be nice to spend the day with everyone. He wasn't really looking forward to being alone on Thanksgiving, but ... but he didn't want to give anyone false hope or the idea that he and Nancy were somehow still a couple. Except for the kids, he had to separate himself from his former life. He needed to make a new start. He was about to decline when a high pitched, young voice altered his decision.

"Oh please, daddy, can you? Can you come with us to grandma and grandpa's?" LeAnn overheard her mother from the top of the stairs and was excited over the prospect of her dad joining them. She ran down the stairs and looked at him with pleading eyes.

"I ah," he looked at his ex for help but she also had pleading eyes. "Are you sure it won't feel awkward for your folks? I don't want to spoil everyone's holiday."

"Don't be silly, Tyler, they miss you. They asked me to be sure to invite you," Nancy explained.

"Well, I ... I guess it would okay," he relented.

"Yea," LeAnn called out while hugging her daddy.

Nancy was correct. Her parents welcomed Tyler as if he was their long-lost son. They fussed over him and made sure he had a second helping of turkey and dressing. It took a while but he finally started to relax and enjoy himself.

As he returned to his empty apartment that night, he poured himself a drink and sank down into one of the few items he took from the house, his favorite lounge chair. He took a sip of scotch and thought about everything he was walking away from. For the umpteenth time he wondered if he was doing the right thing. A lonely tear trickled from the corner of his eye.

As it always does, life seemed to speed up a little after turkey day. The first major snowfall made a fitting backdrop for the colored lights, wreaths, and big candy canes that adorned the streetlights, and shop windows. The Christmas season was in full swing. Many considered it to be the happiest, most joyous time of the year, but for members of a newly broken family, it could be downright depressing.

On the night before Christmas Eve, Nancy didn't get home until almost one in the morning. Thank God some of the stores stayed open until midnight, she thought as she slumped down on the couch. She'd had a good night at the restaurant. The plant workers were in a holiday mood which translated into some pretty hefty tips.

A week earlier her folks had given her a little money to buy the kids presents but they weren't rich either and the little they could spare didn't go very far. Nancy knew how badly LeAnn and Chris felt already, knowing their dad wouldn't be there when they opened their gifts. She didn't want to compound it by not having any gifts for them to open, so as soon as the restaurant closed she high-tailed it to the mall across the street and spent every penny she earned that night.

She was dead on her feet but she wouldn't let it keep her from making sure everything was wrapped by morning. It was a little after three when she slid the last of the presents under the tree.

Exhausted as she was, she needed a drink before going to bed. She poured herself a glass of wine and wandered back out to the living room to relax on the couch for a few minutes. As she admired her wrapping skills she remembered back to the previous year.

After spending half the night wrapping the gifts, she and Tyler took a break on the very same couch she was sitting on. Nancy closed her eyes and remembered the tender touch of his lips against hers. She laid her head back with a little sigh and could almost feel his loving kisses caressing her neck and gently nipping at her nipples. Her breathing quickened as she set her glass down and laid back to imagine they were his fingers working their way into her panties. She could feel his hot breath against her skin as she slowly pushed her finger inside the moistening gates of heaven.

Oh Tyler, I need you so," she whispered. Desperately she fantasized, trying to convince herself it was him making love to her but it was no use. Her finger was a poor substitute for the man she loved. Tears flooded her eyes and rolled down her cheeks as she gave up. She couldn't even get herself off.

Nancy sat back up and took a couple sips of wine as reality set back in. Her heart ached for her man. He always made her feel so special, like ... like she was the only woman in the world; his love surrounded her, wrapping her in a warm, safe blanket.

It had been more than six months ... six months since that terrible day and the pain hurt every bit as bad as it did then. I have to stop, she asserted. I have to stop torturing myself. She wiped away more tears and decided to call it a night. As Nancy laid her head on the pillow, again she silently called his name but there was no answer. Drop by drop, regret leaked from her eyes as she finally drifted to sleep.

The next two days were bitter-sweet. Nancy's dad and mom came over in the evening to join the festivities. On Christmas morning, Tyler picked up the kids and brought them to his apartment where they went through the ritual of opening presents for the second time. As excited as Chris and LeAnn were with all the great gifts, they both would have given everything they had to have their dad living with them again.

A week later, Nancy prepared some special treats and non-alcoholic eggnog. She and the kids would ring in the new year sitting in front of the TV, watching the Times Square ball drop, together. At the stroke of midnight her young man and darling daughter both hugged and kissed her before going up to bed. It wasn't hard to see behind their eyes and know what they were thinking. Nancy was thinking the same thing ... another year ... so what. What was there to look forward to?

Tyler had been invited to a New Year's Eve party, but try as his friends did, they just couldn't get him there. He simply told them it would be no fun without having someone to kiss at midnight. Instead, for the first time since forever, he stayed home and went to bed early—before eleven. He just wanted the damn holidays over with.

Both Tyler and Nancy got their wish. The holidays were depressing, especially for the kids, but they were finally over. By mid-January they were pretty much forgotten and replaced with the trials and tribulations of a cold Chicago winter.

Tyler was sitting in his office going over some reports when he heard his cell ring. That was unusual. During the day he rarely got any personal calls. He glanced at the clock on his desk as he dug the phone from his pocket and hit "connect" without looking at the display...

"DAD, DAD, LeAnn's been hit by a car," came his son's voice blubbering from the speak

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