This story is published here by kind permission of Ruthie's Club, where it appeared first, perfectly and beautifully illustrated by dAVID.
This is a work of adult fiction and should be read only by adults. It is also my work. Although I receive no compensation other than your comments, it is still my work. Please respect this and do not repost it somewhere else without talking to me first about it.
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She stared at the mark on the wall as she listened to his voice on the 'phone. She really should do something to cover it. Paint the wall, hang a picture there, move the sofa, something. It wasn't so bad when they still had the leather sofa, the one that made the mark originally, but last month they had refurbished and redecorated. Upscaled. A fainting couch instead of a sofa, a footstool instead of an ottoman. They were entertaining business associates more often now, and it was important to look the part. The brown faded leather they'd had for the first ten years of their marriage was out of place beneath the framed oils and the gilded sconces and the beveled-edge leaded mirrors.
"My 'plane is going to be late. Something about a headwind and construction in Dallas." Sean's cell 'phone broke up badly. "Won't- crackle, screech-... don't expect... nine. Okay?"
She pressed the 'phone harder to her ear, as though she could improve the connection by holding him tighter. "What? I missed that entire last bit. You're still coming home, right?"
He'd been gone, this trip, for almost three weeks. It was supposed to be a week, just to explore the new sales area. Then it was ten days. There was a bigger complex attached to the hospital than he had been led to believe, which meant more doctors to visit. Then it became thirteen days. As long as he was in the area, he might as well take some of the more lucrative doctors for a round or two of golf. Then it was another week to help train a new representative in a neighboring area. That's how it's played. That's how sales are made and commissions earned and the Jaguar paid for. They certainly weren't getting there on her teacher's salary.
It had been this way for most of their marriage. They started out together. She was twenty-three, fresh out of student teaching, first year in the classroom, earning little more than minimum wage. He was three years older, barely above entry-level sales for a company, and earning enough in commissions to put gas in their Volkswagen after dropping her off in front of the school flagpole every morning. They were together all the time, evenings and weekends, mornings and holidays. It was how it was supposed to be.
But he was very good. Smooth, glib, intelligent, funny. All those qualities that drew her to him also drew other people in. He'd run his fingers absently through his very-good-but-not-perfect hair, he'd smile with his perfect-but-not-intimidating smile, and the nurses and receptionists would "find" an extra ten minutes in Doctor's schedule so that he could just "drop off some new samples that we're very excited about." He used his bedroom voice with the receptionists. The one that said, despite his actual words, I'd be very, very good to you. His voice that told them, I know what to do. I know how to stroke you. I know how to make you beg, and I can make you come twice before I even stick it in.
Oh, yes, they always found room in Doctor's schedule for Sean. And, since doctors get most of their prescribing information from the drug reps anyway, he was almost guaranteed a bigger commission check after each visit.
Before long, his sales area was expanded and he began making overnight trips, then they were three- and four-day trips. And his smile got smoother and his hair started prematurely to silver-making him, of course, that much more attractive to the young and perky receptionists and secretaries. Now, at thirty-five, he was one of the top salesman for the company. His territory expanded again and, instead of three-day driving sales trips, he began flying enough to earn them free first-class upgrades when they spent their three-week summer vacation at the beach. It was Myrtle Beach those first few years. Now it was more likely to be Aruba or St. Maarten. Not a bad way to spend part of her summer off.
So she tried not to complain about his business trips that seemed to be getting longer and longer. She smiled, and she cleaned house, and she cooked special "welcome home" meals, and she kept herself pretty and fit and sexy for when he was home.
"Yes. I'm coming home. I can't wait to see you." The static seemed to have cleared.
I wish he'd just use an airport pay 'phone instead of his company cell, she thought. I don't care if it does mean he has to queue at the 'phone instead of being able to call from the airport bar.
"I've just found out that there's a problem with my connection in Dallas, something about the construction. Don't worry though. I've booked a different flight so that I could definitely be home tonight, but I'll be a little bit later." She could hear the muffled sound of the waitress delivering his drink. There was a brief shuffle, and she pictured the casual way he handed over his credit card. She was sure that he'd flashed one of his prize-winning smiles at the barmaid. You never know when you might see them again; can't take the chance of offending someone.
"Can you pick me up at eleven instead of six? If it's a problem, I'll take a cab home." It was an almost two-hour round trip from home to the airport, but it wasn't a school night, and it had been too long since she'd seen him.
"Of course I'll be there. Shall I meet you at the baggage claim?" She missed the days before heightened security when she could meet him at the gate. It was always such a romantic moment, standing there as the passengers filed through the doorway, craning her neck to catch the first glimpse of his hair, maybe a flash of his shoulder. She could always tell him, even in a sea of blue business suits. Something about the way he carried his shoulders. So straight. So sure. So confident.
She'd stand just to the side of the crowd, back behind the squalling, sticky-fingered children waiting to dig into Grandma's carryon bag. Sean always knew where to find her. Even in the most crowded of waiting groups, she'd always be right there. Two steps behind the gate counter, dressed in one of his favorite dresses. Something that flowed. Something that drifted. Something that made her look like his bride. Never one of the wash-and-wear sweater sets that made her look like a third grade teacher. When he came home, she was his Tabitha, sexy and loving, not Tabby, the patient and mothering schoolmarm.
He'd walk to her. He never pushed through the crowd, but somehow people just seemed to move out of his way, and he'd drop his briefcase at her feet, wrap his hands around her shoulders, and look down into her eyes. And he always kissed her. Right there. A melting, gentle-but-insistent kiss. A returning-from-the-front kiss, like something from a World War II newsreel. A black-and-white movie kiss. A kiss that said, "This is my wife. Not my lover, or my girlfriend, but the woman I'm going to grow old with." She knew that other passengers watched them enviously. She missed those homecomings.
It wasn't the same, waiting for him in front of the cold-steel conveyor belt of baggage claim. There were too many people, the lights were too bright, there was too much noise and activity. There was nothing romantic about baggage claim.
"No. Don't go to baggage claim. There's no point in you battling the parking lots. I'll meet you outside. Eleven o'clock should give me plenty of time to get my bags and be outside the Arrivals doors. I'll see you then, honey." Crack, snap. "I'm losing the connection again. I'll see you tonight."
"Yes, I can't wait," she said into the empty 'phone.
It was a Friday night. There was a standing date for school staff members on Friday night at one of the local restaurants. A small core of regulars and a group of occasional others at a place set by whoever took the initiative to send out an e-mail on Friday morning. Today it was the local Mexican place. Margaritas, chips, salsa, and a chance to decompress after the week. She knew she'd find at least three or four people whom she genuinely liked there. It was a good way to spend the extra time instead of sitting home and waiting. It was on the way to the airport anyway. Might as well.
"Don't. Don't even get me started. I swear to God, if that cow tells me one more time that it's not her 'precious baby's fault that his homework isn't done, I'm going to reach down her throat and pull her heart out with my own hands."
Everyone tsked and uh-huh'd sympathetically. Different year, different class, different parents, same stories.
She nursed her margarita, licking salt from the rim and letting the hard iciness of the frozen lime chill her top lip. Just one drink tonight. Enough to be social, but not too much for the longish drive to the airport.
She was only half-listening. Debbie had been battling this particular set of parents since school started last September, so the story was a familiar one. She let her eyes roam the room, indulging her hobby of people watching. Couples, small groups, the restaurant was crowded tonight, but it was a small town, it was Friday night, and the availability of mid-priced dining with decent food and drink was limited. It was always crowded.
.... There is more of this story ...