"Hello, Bill Thompson" I grated impatiently into the phone as I rushed to finish the latest changes to the design specifications I was working on. It was a typical Monday afternoon at the office. The clients spend the weekend going over the plans and making last minute changes and guess who gets to shovel the resulting shit?
"Hi, it's me," my wife Anne replied. Her voice sounded a bit strained but I assumed it was just the stress of her day. "I'm just calling to find out what time you'll be home tonight?"
Her call was not unusual. Anne liked to keep on top of things. She was the planner for the family and took it as her responsibility for coordinating our busy schedules.
"I'm not sure," I mumbled distractedly as I continued to manipulate the CAD program. "Joe handed me a bunch of last minute changes to the Johnson project, and we need to get them to the contractor by tonight. If everything goes right, we should be done in a couple of hours, but don't hold dinner for me. If it gets too late, I'll have Heather order in for us."
Anne sighed petulantly. My bosses' penchant for throwing unexpected late nights at me had been the cause of more than a few disagreements between Anne and me. I'm an architect for a firm that specializes in large commercial developments. About five years ago I had been promoted to project manager. It meant a nice salary increase, but it also meant more responsibility and the likelihood of longer hours.
There are times like today when I have to drop everything to finish a rush job. Timing can be critical. Any delays in getting the plans to the builders could result in some severe performance penalties to the firm. This could also cause a severe penalty to my bank balance, as my firm did not look kindly on project managers who didn't deliver. The problem was, that there was often little or no warning on these rush projects.
It didn't help matters that the last few years had been tougher than normal. My team was a victim of its own success. We had successfully pulled off a series of jobs for tough demanding clients and as a result we had gained a reputation for getting the job done. It seemed like every demanding client that came to our firm was now asking specifically that we be assigned to their project.
As a result, I had had to deal with a succession of picky clients with lots of last minute changes. Even when the demands were unreasonable, my boss would expect that they be met. Privately he would agree that the client was being outrageous, but publicly he told me to do my job. I guess he was persuaded by the fact that the firm was making the clients pay through the nose for each and every annoyance that they put my team through.
So my team was earning great bonuses and lots of respect, but the hours were killing us. I'm the type of guy who likes to spend a lot of time with the family and be involved in my kids' lives. Just that week, I had put my foot down and told my boss that things had to change. The extra hours were affecting team performance, and I was in danger of losing some of my best people if things didn't change. He had reluctantly agreed, and we had set up a meeting to discuss the creation of more reasonable deadlines.
I wasn't exactly sure why Anne was so bothered by my overtime. Hell, she put in a ton of hours at her job too. I never complained, well, not too much. Anne was a financial analyst. I knew that that there were going to be times when she had to put in the extra hours. We both knew that the extra hours came with the extra responsibility and the extra money in the paycheck. We had learned to work around it, and we both made sure not to let the job get in the way of our family time, but the carping had been getting worse.
"I'm sure Heather will give you anything you want," Anne responded sarcastically. "Try to make it home before midnight. We have things to discuss."
I mumbled a hasty goodbye before turning my attention back to the computer. In hindsight, I missed the clues in her tone. I had only given her part of my attention because I needed to get this job done. I was in a rush to finish up and get home. I probably should have paid more attention to what she was saying, or perhaps more importantly to how she said it.
It was only later that I realized that the phone call had been a classic no win situation. If I had stopped working and taken the time to talk with her, then it would take longer to get the job done and she would have been pissed because I was even later getting home. But, by choosing to hurry through the conversation in an obviously distracted fashion, she felt slighted. No matter which way I had responded, I confirmed her fears about my priorities.
It wasn't the best way to start the worst evening of my life. Anne knew I had tuned her out and she hated to be ignored. All I had done was succeed in getting her angry with me. Hell, I even missed her snipe at Heather.
Heather had been hired as my personal assistant right out of college, about three years ago. Hiring her was one of the best decisions that I'd made when I put my team together. I was a damned good architect, but my managerial skills needed a little help. She had the business and organizational skills that I lacked, and was the one who worked behind the scenes to keep the team running smoothly. Our skills complemented each other perfectly. If it hadn't been for her, I don't think my team would have been half as successful.
Unfortunately, Heather had become yet another source of conflict between Anne and myself. Although she had never come out and said it to my face, Anne had dropped enough hints to make me believe that she thought that I had hired Heather strictly because of her looks. Heather was about twenty-five years old and was cute as a button. She hit all my hot buttons. She reminded me a lot of Anne when we first married.
Anne had taken one look at Heather three years ago and had taken an instant dislike to her. In retrospect, it was obvious that Anne felt threatened by the amount of time that Heather and I spent together.
But good old Clueless Bill missed the warning signs. All I saw was the contributions Heather made to the team. Sure I spent a lot of time with Heather. She was my assistant. She was in and out of my office constantly, and was a frequent companion on my visits to the building sites. She was the one who kept me on track. I never considered how it might have looked to Anne.
It might not have been an issue, but things had been strained between Anne and I over the last year or two. We both had developed the unfortunate practice of ignoring subjects that would cause arguments. Instead we let them fester. Anne never accused me of cheating on her, but I think she had her suspicions. As for me, I had stopped mentioning Heather to Anne. I didn't want to give her a reason to get mad.
The ironic thing was that I had no interest in Heather. If anything, she was like my little sister. I loved her enthusiasm and energy, but I had very little in common with her, as had been made all too obvious during some of our conversations on long car rides. I'm not going to say I didn't appreciate her beauty, but I didn't dwell on it. Besides, Anne was the only woman that I wanted or needed. I loved Anne and had no desire to find someone else.
Frankly, I thought the guys who ran after the young trophy wives were a bunch of fools. I had some friends from the country club who had dumped their wives only to turn up with a pneumatic doll on their arm and I just shook my head at their stupidity. I couldn't see the point. Even from a distance I could see the mercenary glint in the girls faces as they pumped their sugar daddy for all he was worth.
As for me, I had a full life with Anne. Even though we had our arguments, we had a good partnership. I wasn't worried about her motivations because we both made a good living. We were together because we wanted to be. She was the one I wanted to grow old with.
I finally finished up and sent the revised blueprints off to the contractor around eight. I stretched, and turned off my computer. I walked out of the building with the remainder of the team as we all hurried home to make the most of our shortened evening. By now, I had totally forgotten about Anne's phone call. I just wanted to get home and relax. Luckily, I missed most of the traffic and got home before 9:00.
I was just in time to kiss my 10-year-old daughter Sarah goodnight as she headed up to her room. I peeked in on Lacey, and gave a wave as I saw she was on her phone. I shook my head in disbelief. Twelve years old, and already dependent on her cell phone. I had just made myself a drink, and had settled onto the couch to veg out in front of the TV, when Anne came in and sat down in the loveseat, and looked over towards me.
This was my first clue that relaxation was not on my agenda. Anne usually sat next to me on the couch so we could cuddle. The only time Anne sat in the loveseat was when she had something important to discuss. I sighed to myself and looked over towards her. Her body language was difficult to read. She was obviously nervous about something. But my late return had let her stew for a few hours and so she also exhibited some overtones of anger.
"Bill," she began slowly. "I don't know how to make this any easier, so I'm just going to say it. I want a divorce."
I was stunned. Even though we had had some problems, I had no clue that they had gotten this serious.
"WHAT... ?" I sputtered. "You can't be serious. What's going on?"
Anne dropped her eyes and wouldn't look at me. I sat there staring at her. Of course, the first thing that my mind did was to examine my behavior to see what might have caused this. All I could think of was Heather. She must have finally decided that I was cheating on her.
"Can't we talk about this?" I pleaded desperately. "I don't know what you think is happening, but we've been together for fifteen years. Shouldn't we try to work things out?"
Anne sighed. "I'm sorry Bill. My mind is made up. Look, it's nothing you did. We've been drifting apart for years and I think it would be best for both of us if we just moved on with our lives."
After fifteen years, I knew Anne pretty well. It was obvious from her body language that she was hiding something. I just didn't know what.
"Bullshit." I responded heatedly. "Maybe we aren't as close as we used to be, but that's something we could fix if we wanted to. What the fuck is really bothering you Anne. What's going on? Do you think I'm running around on you or something?"
At my words, Anne flushed and twisted her fingers together. Her own guilt was evident in every pore of her body. It was then that I woke up to what was really happening.
'Son of a bitch," I swore softly. "You're the one that's fucking around. You're leaving me for some other guy."
Anne's silence was confirmation of my suspicions. I sat there stunned for a moment wondering what had gone wrong. Never in a million years would I have suspected Anne of cheating. I was confused. A moment ago I had been desperate to save my marriage, now, I didn't know if I wanted to save it. Or if there was anything left to save. All I knew was that I was angry. "Who is it?" I grated out.
"I'm sorry Bill." Anne said softly. "It just happened. It really wasn't anything that you did. He just swept me off my feet and we want to be together..."
"WHO IS IT?" I interrupted harshly. I really didn't want to hear her excuses.
"Alan Johnson," she whispered.
Alan Johnson was a loudmouth asshole that worked selling securities for Anne's firm. He had been there about five years. I had met him and his wife a few times at parties, and he was not a person that I cared for. In my opinion he was all flash and no substance. I didn't think that he had a genuine bone in his body.
"Johnson? You're leaving me for that asswipe?" I exclaimed in disbelief. "I don't believe it. Wait... he's married, too. You're destroying his marriage, too?"
Anne stared at me for a moment as her guilt fought with her anger at my crude attack. Finally the anger won out and she responded.
"Yes, Bill," she stated heatedly. "Alan Johnson. He's leaving his wife too and we are going to be together. I'm trying to be civil about this, and not get into an argument, but you won't let me will you? I want a divorce because I FOUND SOMEONE ELSE!"
Anne's words hit home like a slap. My emotional outburst subsided and left a cold calculating rage in its place. Dispassionately, I reviewed my alternatives. If I gave vent to my emotions and raged at her like my monkey brain was demanding, nothing further would be accomplished except to vent. It would be impossible for us to have a meaningful conversation. In the alternative, I could wall myself off and try to approach this as coldly as possible.
It was the mental anguish that forced my decision. I could not stand the emotional pain that her revelations had caused. To function, I needed to wall in all my emotions. The only way I could deal with her was to shut her out. I threw a shell around my anger and looked at her dispassionately.
"Fine. You want a divorce you got it. It will save me the effort of doing it myself."
Anne's reaction to my words was curious. Even though she had done her best to push me away, my willingness to give in stung her. She was more conflicted that she was letting on. I could sense that at some level, she was not totally committed to the path that she was taking.
I sat there musing for a few moments considering her reaction half-listening to Anne as she started to mouth the usual platitudes that are used at a time like this. The bullshit that is spouted by someone trying to "let someone down gently." You know the routine... She didn't mean to hurt me; she still cares for me; still wants us to be friends; all that happy horseshit. I had no interest in hearing it and I don't think either of us really believed a word of it.
So, I kind of zoned off into my own thoughts for a few minutes while I tried to make sense of what had just happened. It was only natural that it took me a moment to come back into focus when she nervously moved on to a new topic. As I mentally reviewed what she had said, I was sure I had missed something important.
"What did you say?" I asked incredulously.
Anne looked at me in exasperation. "I said that we need to figure out what we are going to do. I know I sprung this on you suddenly, so I don't mind if you move into the guest room for a few days while you find a place to live."
I couldn't believe it. Of all the nerve. She fucks around on me and tells me she wants a divorce and expects me to move out. It wasn't going to happen.
"What do you take me for, an idiot? I don't think so." I blurted out. "I'm not going anywhere. Why should I leave? You're the one that's asking for the divorce, not me."
Anne looked stunned. I don't think she expected me to challenge her. "But... "
I laughed bitterly, and interrupted her.
"Did you honestly expect me to move out? Tell me, what was your plan?" I mocked. "Was Alan going to move in and take my place?"
Anne's gasp told me that I was close to the mark.
"Like Hell." I grated. "This is my house and no fucking asshole is coming in here to take my place. You want to leave me for him, good riddance. I'm not going to stop you, but I haven't done anything to deserve this and I'm not going to walk away with my tail between my legs. You're the one that fucked up this marriage so you pay the price, not me."
I glared at her. My rage was beginning to resurface.
"Get the fuck out. Go live with your fucking boyfriend for all I care. As far as I'm concerned, you can get the hell out tonight!"
Anne sputtered a moment in shock. "But what about the girls? This is their home."
I shook my head incredulously. "What about the girls? Now you worry about the girls? I bet you thought about them a lot while you've been fucking around on me.
"If I'm not going to allow some asshole to replace me in my house, do you think I'm going to allow you to replace me in their lives? Hell, he has three kids of his own that he just walked out on. I'm not going to allow him anywhere near my kids."
I stared over at Annie and told her in cold deliberate tone. "If you want to take off with your lover, go, there's the door. But the kids stay here with me. You can visit them whenever you want, and maybe you can explain why you destroyed this marriage. I'll never stop you from seeing the kids, but I'm warning you, keep that asshole away from them.
"Tell you what Annie; I'll give you a choice, just like you wanted to give me. You're welcome to the guestroom if you want to stay here with the kids while we bring this train wreck to a conclusion. But it's not going to hurt me in the slightest bit if you get out of my life right now. Make no doubt about it. I'll be damned if I'm going to let you push me out of my house, or away from my kids."
That was the end of coherent conversation. She responded angrily and we quickly degenerated into accusations, yelling, arguing and name-calling. I was pissed. I couldn't believe that Anne thought so little of me that she could try to walk all over me like that.
I don't know where it would have ended up if Lacey hadn't come downstairs to find out what was going on. Seeing her in the doorway horrified at the scene of her parents engaged in a knock down screaming argument was enough to throw cold water on both Anne and I.
I like to think that we were good parents. One look at Lacey was enough to shift our focus. Regardless of our problems, one thing we could still agree on was a desire to avoid putting the kids into the middle of our own private battleground.
The only way to break up my fight with Anne was to get away from her. So with a mumbled comment to Anne about finishing this later, I went over to Lacey and asked her to come upstairs with me so we could talk. If the girls were going to stay with me, it was up to me to break the news. I didn't trust Anne not to tell them that they were moving out with her.
Besides, I knew that the news was going to hit them hard. I wanted to tell them about the impending divorce as gently as I could. I led her upstairs and saw Sarah cautiously peek her head out of her bedroom door. She obviously had heard our screaming as well. I waved her over to join us as we went into Lacey's bedroom.
I'm not going to go into details on that conversation. Suffice it to say that it was painful for all of us. I tried to walk a fine line. Despite my anger and harsh words downstairs, I knew that the girls needed both parents to love them, so I tried hard not to demonize Anne.
I'm sure my anger at her slipped out at times, but I purposefully avoided any discussion of exactly what caused the problem. There was plenty of time to discuss what happened at a future date. The last thing the girls needed at this time was to be forced to choose sides. So, when they pressed for details, I merely told them that Anne and I were having problems we couldn't fix and were going to get a divorce. I tried hard to emphasis that they were not the cause of the problems and that we both still loved them.
The girls took the news badly, just as I had expected. It was a shock to all of us. None of us had seen it coming. When Lacey pressed me for reasons, I had to shake my head in confusion. I really didn't want to tell the girls that Anne had found someone else. I just let it go with a comment that I was upset and as confused as they were.
In the end, the girls cried themselves to the point of exhaustion and I left them huddled together on Lacey's bed. I covered them with a bedspread and made my weary way back downstairs. I was thankful that Anne hadn't tried to insert herself onto the meeting. She'd get her chance to talk to the girls later.
With a heavy heart, I paused at the stair case landing. I dreaded going back into the living room. I really didn't want to fight with Anne anymore that night, but I had to talk to her. We needed to discuss how our breakup would affect the girls.
When I returned to the living room, I saw Anne hastily putting away her cell phone. I assumed that she had been talking to that asshole Johnson, telling him what had happened. It should have infuriated me, but at that time, I was too exhausted to care. It was just another sign that the marriage was over. From the blotches around her eyes, it was obvious that she had been crying, too.
She looked up at me apprehensively as I sat down. It puzzled me for an instant and then I understood. She was afraid of what I had told the girls. She thought that I had told them about her fucking Johnson. She was concerned that I had given into my anger and had blamed her for everything. She thought that I had taken the opportunity to turn the girls against her.
I shook my head in disgust. "Jesus Christ, Anne. Give me some credit. I might hate you right now, but you're their mother. They need both of us. I'm not going to try to turn the girls against you.
My eyes glinted as I leaned forward. "Let's set one ground rule now. We're getting divorced, not the kids. I don't want them dragged into the middle of this shit. I won't trash you to them and I expect you to do the same. Let's keep this between the two of us, and try to keep it as painless as possible for the kids."
Anne nodded gratefully. "What did you tell them?"
"I just said that we were having troubles and had decided to split up. If you want to tell them what really happened, then be my guest. I don't think they need to know right now. But, if you want to confess, I'll leave it up to you. Just don't make me the villain."
I grabbed the watered down remnants of my drink and downed it quickly. I was tempted to get another. Hell, I was tempted to have a bunch. But drowning my sorrows was not my way. I rubbed my neck and looked over to her tiredly. "I can't deal with this anymore tonight. All we'll do is get into another argument and wake the kids up. So why don't you get what you need out of the bedroom now. I want to go to bed."
I was kind of surprised that I didn't get any more of an argument out of Anne. She slowly nodded and went upstairs. At that time, I really didn't know or care if she was staying or leaving. She came down a few minutes later carrying a small bag. She looked at me sorrowfully.
"I'll call the girls tomorrow and I'll let you know when I am coming by to pick up a few more things. I'm going to go stay with a friend for a few days."
I snorted. I assumed that she was heading out to shack up with Johnson. She looked like she wanted to say something but turned away and headed quietly out the door.
As she opened it, I heard her murmur sadly, "Bill, I'm truly sorry," but she was gone before I could respond.
I stared at the wall for a while and then went to my solitary bed to lie awake staring at the ceiling trying to figure out what had gone wrong with my life.
The next few weeks were hell. To my chagrin, Anne and I rapidly fell into a pattern of sniping and bickering that threatened to spiral out of control. I guess it started the day after Anne left.
I had called into work to let them know that I was taking a few personal days off to deal with the crisis. My boss wasn't happy, but he could understand where I was coming from. Joe had gone through a hellacious divorce a few years earlier that had left him understandably bitter. He was a charter member of the "Women are not to be trusted" club and was eager to give me some clues on how to take Anne to the cleaners. He gave me some recommendations on a good aggressive divorce attorney, and suggested that I start to take some steps to protect my assets.
The girls had been surprised in the morning to find that the mother was not there, but were mollified by her promise that she would call them. I gave them my promise that we would discuss matters further after school. They wanted to stay home, but I knew that I would be busy and I didn't want them to sit and obsess over the divorce. So I sent them to school in the hopes that they might be distracted from the situation. Just to be safe, I contacted the school guidance office to advise them of the situation. They recommended a counselor for the girls to meet with if it became necessary.
Maybe I was naïve. I never even considered the possibility that Anne would try to "snatch" the girls from my custody. I just didn't think she had it in her. Luckily, it didn't occur to her either. She did pick up the girls from their school, but only so she could talk to them. She even had the courtesy to call me to tell me what she had done so I wouldn't get worried when they did not get home on time. Still I paced and worried, until I saw her car pull up.
I was not feeling too charitable towards Anne. During the day I had learned some new information on what was going on. I had a pretty good idea what had precipitated her decision and I was pissed. I had received an unexpected visitor a few hours earlier: Claire Johnson. Claire was Alan's wife. She had come to expose her husband's sordid little affair with Anne.
Claire had been tracking the two of them for about two or three months and had all sorts of evidence that she wanted to show me. She had managed to get photographs and video of the two of them together. I took note of it, but I declined her offer to see it all. I didn't want to know the grisly details or watch my wife get fucked by Alan Johnson. The few pictures she did give me of their kissing were enough to turn my stomach. I didn't need any further evidence of Anne's betrayal.
The worst thing however was something that was not said. From the beginning of her visit, Claire acted like she expected me to know about the affair. When I commented on this, she disclosed the fact that she had confronted the two of them yesterday during a luncheon tryst.
Alan hadn't left her, she had told him to get the hell out. What was worse, she had specifically told Anne that she was going to let me know. Anne knew the jig was up for her, too. Anne knew that Claire had a copy of the evidence with my name on it that she was going to get to me as soon as possible.
Claire's revelation floored me. Now I understood why Anne had asked for the divorce out of the blue. She knew damn well that Claire was going to tell me about her affair. She had tried to gain the upper hand by dumping me before I found out.
The dishonesty of her actions was unbelievable. It couldn't be viewed as anything but coldhearted and deceptive. She had tried to manipulate me into leaving the house while hiding her guilt from me. The only thing that confused me is that it just didn't seem to make sense. I had never considered Anne to be that self centered and conniving. I began to wonder if I had ever really known Anne at all.
In any event, while anxiously awaiting Anne to return with the girls, I made my decision. If she could act that callously to me, then I would play hardball, too. I'd live up to my promise not to get the girls involved, but in all other respects, it was going to be all out war. I had decided to take Joe's advice and make her pay in the divorce. In the meantime, I started to look for little ways to annoy and harass her. I wanted to pay her back for the aggravation that she had caused me.
I'm sure most of you have gone through a tough breakup at some point in your life. You know how easy it is to succumb to the baser part of your nature, and fall into an "us" versus "them" mentality. You attack your former lover in an effort to ease some of the pain in your heart. You fight over things you don't care about, just because you know it will piss off the other side.
That is the pattern that Anne and I fell into. Every little attack or slight that I gave to Anne was responded to in kind, and then I retaliated to her actions. We weren't thinking, we were just responding. After all, you had to respond. Doing nothing might be seen as a sign of weakness.
In any event, we were acting like Palestine and Israel, or maybe the Hatfield's and the McCoy's. Slowly but surely our attacks on each other were escalating. We were in a downward spiral that seemed to be heading for a disastrous contested divorce where everything would be contested, starting with the custody of the girls.
That was when Laura stepped in. Laura was the one person I could always count on to support me and give me the advice I needed, whether I wanted to hear it or not. She was my "twin" sister.
Technically, Laura is my cousin, but that doesn't begin to do justice to our relationship. In our minds we are "twins with different mothers." To understand this, you need to know something about our parents. They are a living breathing human-interest story. To make a long story short, our mothers are identical twins, who met and fell in love with... you guessed it, another pair of identical twins.
Our parents took the twin thing to the extreme. Our Moms and Dads got married in a joint ceremony followed by a shared honeymoon. Nine months later, Laura and I were the result. Our Moms even managed to conceive at the same time and went into labor within minutes of each other. In my mind's eye, I can just see them in adjoining beds coordinating their contractions.
Laura came first. The doctor had just enough time to deliver her and cut the umbilical cord before she had to rush over to catch me as I clawed my way squalling into the world. Laura's never let me forget that she is about ten minutes older than I am.
For as far back as I can remember, Laura has been part of my life. Laura's family lived on the next street over, and our back yards abutted each other. In practice, we turned the back yard (and the two houses) into a shared space. It was like having a second home and family. Her parents were my parents and vice versa. I'm pretty sure that our Moms switched off on nursing us on occasion. It didn't bother me. I thought I was really lucky to have two Moms.
Aunt Cindy and Uncle Bill (yes, I'm named for my Uncle just like Laura is named for my mother) always treated me like their own child. To this day, I still call Aunt Cindy Mom at times. She takes it as a compliment and Uncle Bill doesn't mind either. I guess it's to be expected. From what I understand, genetically, I was their child and Laura was the child of my parents. It's no wonder we ended up acting like twins.
Laura's house was my second home and I probably slept there as often as I did in my own house. And when I wasn't at her house, she was at mine. We were inseparable. I'm told that when Laura and I were toddlers, the easiest way to put us down for a nap was to allow us to cuddle up like a pair of puppies. It may seem strange to others, but I grew up with four parents and two homes.
Now, before anyone gets the wrong idea, as far as I know nothing kinky ever went on between our parents. Spare me the jokes or crude comments about how easy it would have been for our parents to make a mistake and switch off. Trust me, even with identical twins; there are enough differences for family members to be able to tell them apart. We all knew who was who.
Similarly, don't even think that Laura and I ever did anything together. Laura was my best friend and in all-important respects my twin sister. We had that twin dynamic going full force. Kissing her would be like kissing a female version of me. Incest and narcissism are not kinks that I am into.
Throughout grade and middle school, Laura and I were inseparable. We both took some teasing but we stuck up for each other. I probably took more lumps defending Laura than for any other reason and she did the same for me. If a boy or girl was not able to accept both of us as a friend, then the answer was plain; they didn't get either of us.
By high school, we had developed some differing interests, but we still hung out together more often than not. We ended up joining a loose group of friends that generally hung out together and had fun. It was nice to have someone to watch my back, and keep me from getting too stupid. Laura always kept her eye out for me and I was her protector. Our friends soon learned that we didn't keep secrets from one another. If a boy wanted Laura to know that he liked her, all he needed to do was to tell me. Same thing went for Laura. She hooked me up with most of my girlfriends in high school.
After high school we did go our own ways. Although we talked about going to the same school, our scholarship offers didn't match up. But, we did stay in close contact by phone. Laura ended up in medical school where she met her husband Ray. They now both work at a family practice in the next suburb from where I am living. I still get together with Laura frequently and talk to her by phone every day. She still serves as my closest confidant. To this day, she is closer to me than my own sister.
Naturally, when the shit hit the fan with Anne, Laura was the first person I called. She commiserated with me, and shared my anger at Anne's betrayal. She also provided the counterpoint advice to my boss Joe, who was urging me to go for Anne's jugular in the divorce.
The defining moment came about three weeks after Anne left. I had hired the lawyer that Joe had suggested, and had met with him a number to times to go over my priorities and concerns. If he was going to represent me in the divorce he needed to be made aware that my primary concern was the girls. I wanted custody. I was sure that this was going to be one of the biggest areas of conflict between Anne and me.
The prognosis he gave to me wasn't good. The local Courts were notorious for favoring the mother in custody disputes. It didn't mater if the father was active in the care of the children or not. If the mother was "fit", she was typically awarded custody. It seemed that the best I could hope for was a permissive visitation schedule.
The other alternative that he gave me, was to get nasty and drag Anne through the mud. My only hope of getting custody was to totally trash Anne. If I wanted to have a shot at getting awarded custody, I would have to make her out to be a totally unfit mother.
He was suggesting that I sue for divorce based on the affair, and put forward every nasty piece of evidence that Claire Johnson had discovered. The idea was to show that Anne's continuing relationship with Johnson would put the girls at risk. He also wanted to allege that Anne had abandoned the girls by leaving the household. In other words, to get any shot at custody, I would have to destroy Anne's relationship with the girls.
It was a sign of my desperation and mindset that I did not reject his idea out of hand but had told him that I would think about it.
I was having lunch with Laura, and gloomily telling her about his ideas. It wasn't that the idea of trashing Anne sounded good. I was uncomfortable with it, but I didn't see a choice. I really didn't want to get the girls involved, but my war with Anne had deteriorated to the point where I needed to fight her on this, just because I knew she wanted custody. I wasn't thinking about what was right or wrong anymore, just about how to beat her.
Thank God that Laura was there to set me straight. Laura had heard all about my feud with Anne. She had been told about every grievance big and small and had heard loving detail about how I had paid Anne back. But my consideration of the custody fight was the last straw.
Laura was fed up.
"Have you had enough yet?" She asked tartly looking at me in annoyance.
"What do you mean?"
"This vendetta of yours. Don't you think its time for you to grow up and get over this petty childishness?"
I couldn't help it. I put on my best whiny child's voice, "She started it!"
Laura groaned at my sally, and grinned in exasperation.
"Oh no, not this time. You're not getting off the hook that easy. Look, Junior, I've sat here and heard you bitch and moan for the last three weeks about Anne and what she did to you. Well, it's time to grow up, and get over it. Stop reacting and start thinking!"
It wasn't until that point that I realized that Laura was trying to be serious. I had thought she was just kidding me, trying to get my mind off my troubles. Laura looked at me seriously.
"Bill, I know you're angry, and you're hurting. You have a right to be. I'm angry with Anne too. But, for God's sake, don't let your emotions push you into a corner that you can't get out of. I know it's hard, but you've got to think about the future, not the past."
I must have looked confused because she continued softly. "Look, just because your marriage is toast, it doesn't mean you have to destroy each other in the divorce. It's not too late to change what your life will be like after the divorce is over. Think about it. How do you want to end up in a few years? Do you really want to end up a bitter bastard like Joe? Do you really want to get to the point where you and Anne are at each other's throats constantly?
"I hate to tell you this, but that is where you are heading. The way you and Anne are acting, you're almost to the point of no return. You're both letting your anger get to you, and its causing both of you to play hardball. If it doesn't stop soon, you'll end up hating each other just like Joe hates his ex. If that happens, the only ones who are going to end up with any money at the end of your divorce are the lawyers.
"Besides, what about the girls? How is a nasty divorce going to affect them? How often does Joe get to see his kids?" I shook my head uneasily. Joe was lucky to see his son and daughter twice a year, and was always complaining about the roadblocks his ex was throwing up, to make regular visitations impossible.
Laura must have seen the anguish in my face as she went on gently. "Do you want that to happen to you? Hell, would you really want to do that to Anne either? If you trash Anne in the divorce the way this shyster is asking you to, the only guaranteed result is that someone's going to get hurt badly, and the most likely candidates are Sarah and Lacey.
"There's no way that you would be able to keep them from finding out about what happened. A fight is going to force them to choose sides. They are going to see you blaming Anne for the divorce. Anne is going to try to get back at you, and make you out to be the villain. There's a good chance that they're going to end up hating someone and they are going to end up being pawns in this little feud you have going on. It's a no win situation for everyone.
"When you told Anne that first night that the girls needed both parents, that might have been the last smart thing you said. Can't you see what you and Anne are doing? This isn't just about you and her. What about Sarah and Lacey? They're going to need both of you in the future!"
I grimaced at Laura. She had hit my weak spot and she knew it. Accusing me of hurting the kids was the one sure way of getting my attention. As she looked at my reaction, she nodded in satisfaction. She had given voice to the doubts that I had been feeling ever since I left the lawyer's office.
"So what do you want me to do?" I demanded miserably. "Give up and let Anne have custody and hope that she is willing to give me visitation rights? It's a no win situation."
Laura shook her head. "There is another choice but that asshole lawyer of yours doesn't see it. All he knows how to do is fight and claw. Ray's been talking to a friend of his and he asked if you had considered sharing custody. The Court's will go for it if the parties are willing to work together. I think you and Anne have a chance at cooperating, but it's got to start now!
"Call off the feud before it's too late." She urged. "You need to take the first step, and ask for a truce. Maybe if you and Anne sit down and discuss things like adults, you can come up with a solution you both can tolerate. You both love those girls to death and you both are exceptional parents. If you two can manage to be civil to each other for a few hours, I think you can come to a solution."
Laura smiled. "After all, the one thing you two still agree upon is the girls' welfare. If you don't want to do it for yourself, do it for them!"
I mumbled some comment about thinking about it. Her idea gave me a hope that I hadn't had before, but I didn't want to get too excited until I knew if it was a real possibility. At a minimum, it was worth a call to my lawyer to find out more about shared custody.
Laura had given me a lot to think about so I tried to shift the remainder of our conversation to something innocuous, but Laura wouldn't let me. She wasn't quite done yet in meddling with my life. She had just gotten up a full head of steam.
"Now for the rest of it. Heather called the other day. She's worried about you. The girls are worried about you. Hell even Ray is worried about you. When are you going to get your head out of your ass and stop moping around?
"You're getting divorced. So what? Deal with it! It's not the end of the world. You've got to get on with your life. Focus on the future, and not the past. You've got to plan ahead," she urged. "Think about the future. Instead of letting this divorce turn you into a bitter wreck like Joe who can't trust anyone, try to think of the bright side."
"What bright side?" I interrupted morosely.
"Well, for one thing, if you play your cards right, you'll end up with more pussy than you can imagine." She stated bluntly.
I looked at her in amazement. She always could find a way to shock and surprise me, but this one came from left field. Sure when we were younger sex and dating had been a frequent topic of conversation. She had supported me in my first feeble attempts to explore the mysteries of the opposite sex. In a way, she had been my "mole" in the strange and mysterious camp of all things female. She had given me practical advice on the types of things that I could do to attract and keep a girl's attention. I had tried to do the same for her as she tried to understand boys.
But we had stopped playing that game by the time we were fifteen. She had done it again. First she gives me a well-deserved kick in the ass, for playing with my girls' future, now she's giving me advice for the lovelorn. What was next? Was she going to get back into arranging dates for me?
She noted my expression and smiled.
"I figured that would get your attention." She said dryly. "You've got to look at this as an opportunity. How many divorcee's and widows our age are there at the club? How many guys do you know who've thrown away perfectly good marriages, for a piece of young tail? They're all just waiting for you."
Laura snorted in amusement. "Hell, some of them are champing at the bit. As soon as word got out about your split with Anne, I had a couple of my friends ask me about you. Off the top of my head I can give you half a dozen names of women that would love to comfort you."
I must've looked doubtful because she shook her head in exasperation. "Don't you get it? A lot of women are in the same boat you're in. Their husbands cheated or they got dumped for some trophy wife. A lot of them are just looking for someone that they can relate to, someone who knows what they went through, someone they can trust.
"You're the answer to their dreams. You are a trustworthy guy who might be in the market for a dependable woman. Not only that, you're in good shape, and you're half way decent looking." She laughed. "Give them half a chance and they'll eat you up!"
I laughed with her, albeit bitterly.
"Right I'm a sex god, that's why Anne decided she needed to go fuck Alan Johnson. You're so full of shit, Asshole." I muttered. "I bet all your friends are just laughing at the cuckolded bastard."
Laura just shook her head in mock derision. "You stupid, stupid man. You are wrong in so many different ways that it's hard to know where to begin."
She sighed theatrically. "Alright, let's start with the thing that obviously seems to be bothering you the most: Your pride. Is your ego really that fragile? Do you honestly believe that everyone is going to be laughing at you because Anne fucked around on you? Get over it! Not only don't these women care, half of them know exactly what you are going through. Believe me; they've probably gone through worse self image problems than you ever will.
"I hate to bust your bubble, Junior, but chances are sex had nothing to do with why Anne had her affair. Did Anne ever complain about sex? Unlike guys, most women don't have affairs just because they're looking for something strange in the sack. There is usually some other reason that gets the ball rolling and the sex is a result, not the cause.
"So don't get all worried about whether Anne left you because you were bad in the sack. This has nothing to do with your ability to make a girl see stars. Hell, if you remembered half of the stuff that I told you about when we were younger, you're better than most guys I've heard about. For what it's worth, I'm almost positive you're better than a self-centered prick like Johnson.
"You may not be a sex god, but who says you have to be? The women that you are going to be interested in are much more interested in what's here," Laura pointed to her head "and here," then she pointed to her chest, "than what you're packing down here." At this she pointed to his crotch. "You have nothing to worry about.
"I love you, Twin, but sometimes you can be a dunce. What in the hell do you really think that these women are looking for? Do you honestly believe that they're just looking for some quick sex? Women our age are looking for more than that. They want someone nice, someone they can feel comfortable being with. They want someone who is interested in them as a whole person, not just as a pussy to use and discard. They want a little romance, and someone to make them feel better about themselves.
"You fit the bill on all counts. You're a nice guy, clean, honest, and dependable. You have a good job, and you're usually somewhat intelligent. You can even manage to hold up your end of a conversation. That's why my friends want to meet you. If you turn out to be good in the sack, that's just a bonus."
Laura went on intently. "No one is going to think less of you because Anne left you. Hell, the hardest part is going to be to keep a date from turning into a 'trash the ex' session. If you tell them about it, all they'll think is that Anne was a bitch for cheating on you, and a fool for letting you go.
"And they'd be right!" Laura stated bluntly. "Anne's a fool and she's going to figure it out before too long. The best part is, if you really want to make her pay you don't have to do anything but be yourself. She may not know it yet, but I'll bet you a case of wine that she's going to be miserable in a few years."
Her pep talk had raised my spirits a little and I definitely perked up at her last statement. She noticed and gave an evil little chuckle and leaned forward.
"Think about it. She was jealous and suspicious of you, just for hiring a young assistant. How's she going to deal with a slime bucket that she knows will go out and cheat on his wife? It's only a matter of time before he cheats on her, too, and she knows it. She gave you up for a pile of fool's gold.
"So you see you don't have to make yourself miserable in the divorce to pay her back. If you really want to make her regret what she did, just go on with your life, and be yourself. You can afford to be civil to her because you are set to have your cake and eat it too. You might get to survive this divorce, and actually have some fun with your life, too."
For the rest of the lunch, we shifted our conversation to easier topics and rattled on about what the kids were doing, but she had given me a lot to think about. I excused myself to go call my lawyer. After our conversation where he somewhat grudgingly admitted the concept of shared custody, I finished work early and went home to take a walk with the kids.
As I sat at the park, watching them fool around on the swings, I thought back over what Laura had said. She had made a lot of sense. She was dead on about the risks involved in fighting custody. I would end up in a crapshoot, where someone was going to lose and there was no real assurance that I would win. My only hope was if I was willing to commit to go all out in trying to destroy Anne.
But, did I really want to take that route? More to the point, was I even capable of doing what it would take? The past few weeks had been hard on the girls, and that was with a lot of contact with their mother. I hadn't tried to stop them from getting together. I had encouraged it because I could see that it helped them to adjust to what was going on.
It was time for me to take a long hard look at my motivations. Was I demanding sole custody because it was best for the girls or because I wanted to pay Anne back? Had I lost focus on the girls in my efforts to get back at Annie? I hated her for what she had done to us, but she was a good mother, and the girls were going to need her. If I was honest with myself, there was no way that I could meet all of their needs as they grew up.
By the same token, Anne had the same problem. There were things that they were going to need their Daddy for, too. The girls needed and deserved two parents. I owed it to them to do my best to see that they got us both. If that meant that I needed to call a truce and try to work with Anne to arrange for some type of joint or shared custody, then so be it. In the scheme of things, my love for Lacey and Sarah far outweighed any satisfaction I might get from destroying Anne.
Later that night, I developed a greater appreciation for why feuds can last for years or even generations. Objectively, I had made my decision. It was in my best interest and in the girl's best interest to set down the hatchet and try to make peace with Anne.
The problem was that this involved swallowing my pride and calling her. I was still angry with her and, on some level I knew that she was angry at me too. I'd certainly given her enough reasons over the past few weeks. I couldn't count on her to be the first one to ask for a truce. If I wanted it to happen, it was up to me to make the first step. Besides, her attorney was probably telling her that she was likely to get custody anyway.
But despite what my brain was telling me, there was this angry voice in my head telling me not to do it. She was the one that had broken up the marriage. She should be the one that comes crawling to me. It wasn't fair to require me to apologize and ask for peace. It was my right to demand satisfaction, to pay her back for everything she had done to me.
In the end, I made the call. My love for the girls outweighed my pride. If it took an apology to resolve the issue, then I could deal with it. But it was the hardest thing I have ever done.
When Anne answered her cell phone, the caller ID told her that it was me calling.
"What do you want?" She demanded brusquely.
"Hi," I answered shortly. "I've been thinking. Can we meet somewhere tomorrow to talk? Things between us have been getting out of hand and I was hoping we could meet to calm things down."
"What type of shit are you trying to pull now?" She asked suspiciously.
Internally I sighed and swallowed the angry retort that sprang to mind.
"Nothing. It's just that Laura rubbed my nose in the fact that our battles are beginning to affect the girls, and if we continue, it's bound to get worse. I don't think that either of us wants that. I'd like to call a truce to see if we can settle things civilly. Our marriage was a partnership for fifteen years. We should be able to get along for long enough to figure out what we are going to do. We owe it to the girls."
"I don't know," Anne responded doubtfully. "My lawyer told me not to."
"Anne, I'm not going to try to ram something down your throat. Hell, you've got as much experience in negotiation as I do. I'm not going to take advantage of you. I'm just trying to see if we can get through this divorce without hating each other's guts. I'm just trying to avoid some pain, that's all."
"What do you mean?" She responded slowly.
I sighed. This was going pretty much as expected. In the period of three short weeks, the wall between us had built up to the point where she wasn't willing to take anything I said at face value.
"What I'm saying is that for the girls' sake, I hope we can keep this divorce from getting too nasty. I want to see if we can come to some type of agreement on sharing custody. Shit, my attorney is going to kill me for telling you this, but he's warned me that if we fight over custody, things are going to get real ugly."
"What..." She screeched.
"If I want to get custody of the girls, he told me that I'm going to have to trash you and use all the evidence of your affair that I can get my hands on." I said with trepidation.
"Are you threatening me?" She demanded angrily.
"No. No," I stated hastily. "You know how I feel. Sarah and Lacey need both of us. That's why I'm calling you. I know that we both want to have custody, and I don't want this to cause us to go for each other's throats. That's what I want to talk to you about. A friend of Ray's suggested that we might want to look at a compromise by sharing custody. I just want to talk to you to see if this is a possibility. I don't want to make the girls choose sides."
Anne continued to make angry noises while I continued my efforts to placate her. Oddly enough, I had some empathy for how she was feeling. On some level she must have felt that I was using the threat of exposing the affair as a club. Her reaction couldn't be that much different from the surprise and anger I felt when she pulled the divorce on me. I knew it was going to take a while for her to calm down and think about what I had said.
"Just do me a favor and think about it, ok? All I'm asking is that we get together to talk about it. That's all I want. Give me a call back in a few days. In the meantime, I promise no more nasty surprises. I'm calling a cease-fire on our little feud."
I got her reluctant agreement, and hung up. Now that I had started the ball rolling, I had to do some serious thinking on what I was willing to offer Annie, in exchange for shared custody. When it came right down to it, she held most of the cards. The one option I had was a "nuclear" option I wasn't sure I was willing to play. I had to come up with a proposal that both Anne and I could live with. It wasn't going to be everything I wanted, but that is what compromise is all about.
The biggest issue was going to be housing. I wanted to share physical custody. But the only way to make this work was if we both lived in the same school district. Otherwise, there could be difficulties in getting the girls to and from school. In reality, this would probably mean that I would have to give Annie the house.
Although I had put my foot down about not leaving the house three weeks ago, the truth of the matter was that I didn't really care if I stayed in the house or not. I just wasn't going to get pushed out on someone else's terms. I had no problem with Anne moving back into the house, just so long as she kept Johnson away from the girls, at least until after the divorce. If that was what it took to make things work, I'd move out tomorrow.
After all, I did have an ace up my sleeve. Sometimes, it pays to work for an architectural firm. I had great contacts with all the local contractors and real estate agents. Enough of them owed me favors that it wouldn't be hard for me to find some place to live.
I put that on my list of 'things to do right away'. I wanted to have an option in place, by the time Annie and I talked.