Garlic Salt?

by Jay Cantrell

Caution: This Romantic Story contains strong sexual content, including Ma/Fa, Romantic, .

Desc: Romantic Story: Jeff is tired of his wife spending more time at work than at home and he is tired of the distance between them when they are together. But sometimes a person has to step away before he can see what he's left behind.

A cold chill settled over me when the realization hit: I didn't want to be married any longer. At least not to the woman I had wed.

"Stop," I said forcefully. Surprisingly, Gail complied almost instantly.

We were in the middle of yet another knock-down, drag-out fight over something stupid. Sometimes it was money; sometimes it was one or the other's job.

This time, it was over groceries — or rather, the lack of groceries. Gail had started to fix supper — it was her turn — and found she lacked garlic salt.

Perhaps I was supposed to pick up garlic salt the last time I was at the store. I honestly didn't remember and it didn't make any difference. Garlic salt was not the root of our problem.

"I don't want to do this any more," I said. I was surprised when I felt tears come to my eyes. "Gail, we just don't work. Let's just call it off."

Gail's eyes went wide.

"Call it off?" she asked.

I could only nod. I couldn't trust myself to speak another word. Gradually, I calmed myself.

"I'll get a room for a few days," I said. "We'll get together this weekend if that works for you and we'll talk about splitting things up."

Tears fell onto Gail's cheeks, too. I think it was a testament of where we were in our lives that I didn't have the urge to dry them.

"I think we can find a way to split up everything," I said. "Honestly, I think most of it I wouldn't be willing to fight about anyway. I'm just so tired of fighting with you."

A look of determination settled on Gail's face.

"If you would do anything around here to help me out, we wouldn't fight," she said harshly.

"Yes we would," I said softly. "We always have. If it wasn't this, it would be something else. If I did all the housework and cooked all the meals, you'd be angry that I wasn't spending enough time with you. If you wanted to do something with your friends, I'd be angry that you were flirting with guys or something.

"Think about it, we've always fought. Since about a month after we started dating, we've fought about something at least once a week. If it wasn't something real, one of us would make something up."

"I never made anything up to pick a fight," she said quickly. "If I was pissed off, I had a good reason."

I smiled.

"Garlic salt?"

"What about it?" she asked.

"You, of course, realize that you could have pointed out the fact that we needed it and asked me to run to the store to get it," I said. "I would have. Sure, I probably would have grumbled a little. OK, a lot, but I would have gone.

"Instead, you chewed my ass over my insensitivity for almost five minutes before I even realized it was about garlic salt. Does that sound like the recipe for a successful marriage?"

Gail's face went white.

"But we have a good marriage," she insisted. "We always have."

I shook my head.

"We had elements of a good marriage," I replied. "Nothing more. We don't talk about things; we yell about them. There is little trust. I get jealous when you talk to other guys and your new job worries me. I know you check up on me when I have to be out of town. It's OK because I would do the same to you if the situation were reversed."

Gail started to speak but I raised a hand. Again, to my surprise, she stopped.

"We want different things from life," I said. "We're 32 years old. I want children. I know you don't. I mean, you've just really gotten a foothold in your career so it would be difficult to ask you to take time away to have a child. But we're getting to the point where it will be too late for children soon."

Gail took my silence as a sign that I was finished. I wasn't, but it didn't matter.

"First of all, I have never nor would I ever cheat on you," she said. "When I said 'For better or worse, forsaking all others, ' I meant it. You don't need to worry about me when I'm out with friends or when you're out of town."

I nodded but I knew it wasn't going to ease my mind.

"Secondly," she continued, "I thought we had reached an understanding about children."

I couldn't let this one go past.

"We did not reach an understanding," I said loudly. "You issued a proclamation. There is a difference. Telling me what you are going to do is not the same as reaching an understanding."

Gail took a deep breath. Our fighting styles were different. Gail ranted and raved. She had been known to break things during an argument. I brooded and spoke quietly when I was angry. But I always made a point to say as many hurtful things as I could. To hear me raise my voice caught Gail off guard.

"My career is very important to me," she said simply.

"Children are very important to me," I replied in kind.

"This is what I mean," I continued. "You want to climb the corporate ladder and make no mistake, I am extremely proud of you. But at the same time, having a successful wife is not going to be enough for me. Especially when that success means she has to work longer hours and bring work home."

"You're jealous!" she exclaimed.

"Probably," I said, my temper somewhat in check. "Likely, in fact."

I caught her unprepared again and we sat in silence for a moment. I took it as my cue to leave.

"Think about what you want to keep from here," I said as I stood up. "I'll make a list of the few things I want to take and we'll either split the rest or hold a kick-ass yard sale."

"So, you're just going to leave?"

"Yeah, Gail," I said. "I'm just going to leave. I'll call you Friday to see if this weekend is good for you."

As I drove away, I realized that I couldn't remember the last time I kissed my wife goodbye. And I also realized that neither of us said we loved the other or that we wanted to work things out.

My list of must-have possessions was remarkably short. I wanted my clothes, one of the cars and some tools from the garage. I didn't think Gail would fight over any of them.

When I called the house Friday night, I got only voice mail. I left a message and asked Gail to call me and let me know if Saturday or Sunday would work better for her.

She didn't call so Sunday night I left another message telling her that I was going to retrieve a few belongings from the house on Monday because I was running short of clothes.

Again, I didn't hear from her.

When I got to the house on Monday, nothing had changed from when I left Tuesday night. Literally, nothing.

The pasta sauce was still sitting on the stove. The wine glasses were still on the table. My dirty socks were still on the bedroom floor.

There were a dozen messages on the answering machine besides the ones I had left. Some were from friends that Gail had stood up on Wednesday night. A couple were from co-workers hoping she was feeling better. The last was from Gail.

"Jeff," the tinny voice said. "I went to visit my sister. Take whatever you want. I'll call you soon."

I'm not sure what possessed me but I was immediately worried about Gail. She and her sister hated one another. They were constantly belittling the other and making snide remarks to the other's face. The last time both were in the same room it turned into a no-holds-barred wrestling match complete with hair pulling and biting.

I picked up the phone and dialed her sister's number.

Jenny answered on the second ring.

"Uh, hi, Jen," I stammered. "It's Jeff. Is Gail there?"

I heard a snort.

"Yeppers," she said. "Why do you care?"

I was somewhat taken aback because although Jenny and Gail didn't get along, I had always felt a rapport with the woman.

"Uh, well, you know," I started. "I guess I was just surprised that she would go to see you."

Finally a laugh.

"You and me both," Jenny said. "I'll ask if she wants to talk to you."

"That's OK," I said quickly. "I just wanted to make sure she is OK. I mean, hell, you know what I mean."

"You wanted to make sure she hadn't gone off the deep end," Jenny said.

"I guess so." I wasn't really sure why I had called.

"It just seems, well, out of character for her. You know, to come visit you. Just tell her I called and let her know that I'm only taking my clothes until we can sort through things together."

"Can I tell her that you were worried about her?"

I could detect a trace of something in her voice but I couldn't figure out what it was.

"Yeah," I replied. "It's the truth. When I got her message that she went to see you, I was worried."

"I'll tell her you called," Jen said and then she hung up.

It was five days later when Gail called me at my office. I had rented an apartment but I hadn't bothered with a phone line so I guess she thought this was the best way to catch me.

"Hi, Jeff," she said. Her voice was toneless, almost mechanical.

"Gail," I said. Then I waited. When the silence stretched to 30 seconds, I spoke again.

"How are you?" It was feeble but at least it was something.

"Not well," she said in the same toneless voice.

"Sorry to hear that," I replied truthfully. "I don't hate you, Gail. I do want the best for you. But I want the best for me, too. I don't think we can have that together."

I could hear Gail exhale a short burst of air.

"Maybe you're right," she whispered. "Can we meet tonight?"

I glanced at my schedule out of habit.

"Yeah, sure," I told her. "What time?"

"Any time," she said sadly. "Now?"

"Uh, how about half an hour?"

"OK. Where?"

"The house?" I asked.

"No!" she said loudly. "Not the house. Definitely not in that house."

My eyes widened.

"Neutral ground?" I offered.

"Where are you staying?" she asked.

"I got a place in Heilman Arms," I said.

"Can we meet there?"

I sighed.

"That would be fine," I said. "But, you know, most of what we're going to be talking about is in the house. Don't you think it would be better to be there in case we have a difference of opinion on who gets what?"

"Eventually," she said with a sigh. "It will probably come to that. Right now, I just want to think of the good times in the house. Can I have that for while? Please?"

I didn't remember all that many good times in the house to be perfectly honest. Mostly I remembered petty disagreements that led to full-fledged fights.

"Sure, Gail," I said. "I'll swing by Hoo-San and pick up dinner. Chinese all right with you?"

"I'll grab a bottle of wine," she said and for the first time I heard a bit of emotion in her voice. "I'll see you in about half an hour. What's the apartment number?"

I told her.

"I'll wait in the lot, so don't worry if you're late," she said.

"Who are you and where is Gail?" I asked before I could stop myself.

Punctuality, or my lack thereof, was one of the things that could set Gail off in a heartbeat.

I was greeted with a chuckle instead of the tongue-lashing I was expecting.

"Well, I was talking 20 or 30 minutes," she said. "If you're going to be four or five hours..."

She didn't finish but instead laughed again. I guess the end of our marriage was a relief to us both.

"There is a lobby," I said. "And I live on the ground floor. If you want to wait on the patio, you'll find my god-awful lawn chair there."

"Sounds fine but if you're too late, I'll drink all the wine."

My oh-so-serious, soon-to-be-ex-wife was giggling.

It didn't take long to get to my apartment, even with the stop for food. It certainly didn't take enough time to prepare me for what greeted me when I opened my front door.


"You really should hide a key somewhere different when you move," she said with a smile.

"You really should read the laws about entering without breaking next time you go to work," I replied. I stopped before I got the evening started on the wrong foot.

"Oh, hell," I said with a smile. "At least you didn't break the glass in the patio door."

The smile on Gail's face wavered when I issued my initial salvo but it returned in full force when I changed my tone.

"I had to pee," she said somewhat sheepishly.

I shrugged.

"It's OK," I assured her. "It is good to see you and I'm glad you're doing all right. Let's have dinner and get down to business."

As we shoveled out the moo-shu pork and split a spider machi, Gail looked up at me.

"I'm not doing all right," she said. "And I hope you're not expecting things to go smoothly with this."

I glanced across the table at her.

"Well, I am expecting it to go smoothly," I admitted. "Because there really isn't much I'm willing to fight with you about."

"That's not the point I was trying to make," she replied. "I'm not willing to fight over possessions either. But I am willing to fight. Now eat up."

Gail refused my entreaties to clarify her statement until after we ate. She even helped me clear and rinse the dishes and put them in the dishwasher — a task she always said was "overkill."

As we sat down afterward she pulled out a legal pad that was filled with notes. My three lines on a scrap piece of paper suddenly looked quite inadequate.

"Have you contacted an attorney?" she asked. I shook my head.

"Good," she chimed in quickly before I could continue.

"Do you have someone in mind?" I wondered. I also wondered if two parties in a divorce could be represented by one lawyer. I thought it unlikely.

"No," she said. "I don't think one will be necessary."

I knew there would be all sorts of problems with my wife, who is a very fine paralegal, handling the paperwork for both of us.

"Uh..." I started before Gail cut me off.

"We're not getting divorced," she stated.

I had assumed the notes on the legal pad were a list of our assets and outstanding debts.

I was wrong.

"Uh... ," I started again.

"No, Jeff," Gail said with a quiet assurance. "We're not getting a divorce. Not now, not in 20 years, not ever."

Gail either ignored the look on my face or didn't notice it because she went on unabated.

"I have a list here of more than a dozen marriage counselors," she said. "We can pick one together or you can choose on for us. We have problems, Jeff. I didn't realize they were at the point they are but now I understand. Marriage is a partnership. I have not been holding up my end of arrangement. I'm sorry for that."

Stop the presses. Gail just apologized while she still had her clothes on. I gulped. This was serious.

"Gail, there were two of us in the marriage," I said. "There is enough blame to go around. I'm sorry, too."

Gail was used to my apologies so I didn't expect much applause. I certainly didn't expect her to almost leap across the table, land on my lap and wrap her arms around my neck. The sobs that wracked her body were a bit disconcerting, as well.

It took all my willpower to keep from wrapping her in my arms and telling her everything would be OK. Instead, I simply patted her on the back like I was burping a baby.

Finally she composed herself. But she still didn't leave my lap.

"We're both to blame," she said. "But I know if I would have done one or two things differently, we wouldn't be here now."

I shifted my legs a little to try to entice her to move to a chair. It didn't work.

"I honestly don't know what you could have done differently," I said. "You are happy with the section of your life that is all your own. If you would have given up any of that we'd still be where we are. It would be over different things, but we would still be here."

"I disagree," Gail stated and I saw the look in her eye that precluded the hurling of objects. Thankfully, she had never thrown anything at me — or broken anything that was irreplaceable.

Throwing caution to the wind, I answered anyway.

"That is your option," I said. "I disagree with some statements you made earlier so I guess we're even."

"You're a frustrating man, you know that?" Gail asked and I noticed the look in her eye had changed.

"I will admit to being aware of the frustration I cause," I answer. "But I must confess that I came to that realization only recently."

Gail took a deep breath.

"I am willing to make some changes to save our marriage," she said. "I am aware of some of the things that need to be different and I would like your input on others. Nothing is off the table."

For some unknown reason I glanced at the table. Everything was off the table.

"If you were to change, for me, we will be back here in a year or less," I said. "The fundamental problem in our relationship isn't with either of us. It is with what each of hopes to achieve in our lives and our general outlook on life. Gail, you are a beautiful, vibrant, successful woman. The changes that we need, from you or from me, go to the very essence of our being. It is not something ancillary to our lives. It is not something as simple as lowering the toilet seat or putting the cap back on the toothpaste. For our marriage to work, one of us would have to become a completely different person."

I was not expecting what came next.

"I know," she said.

Before I could wrap my mind around what Gail said, she continued.

"Actually, each of us would have to be willing to be more cognizant of the other's goals and expectations," she said. "And the other would have to be more open about those goals and expectations. For instance, your desire to be a father. I was unaware how important it was to you."

"Well, in my defense, it was never actually discussed," I replied. "I am fully aware that it takes two people to accomplish the feat. You were quite clear that you were unwilling to bend on that. And for the record, it was not a desire to become a father. It was a desire to have a child ... with you."

"Is that still what you want?"

I answered without hesitation.


Gail's smile faltered a bit but her look of determination didn't waver.

"Kids would make this much more difficult," I answered her unasked question. "Gail, our marriage, to use a legal term, is irrevocably broken. We are each married to the wrong person."

A look of anger passed over Gail's features.

"Who is she?" she demanded.

I hoped, for my safety, that my confusion was evident.

"Who is who?" I wondered aloud before the synapses in my brain caught up. "Oh! No way, Gail. I would never do that. Not in a million years."

"Uh-huh," was her reply. I got the distinct impression that she didn't believe me.

"Seriously," I said in what I hoped was an authoritative voice. "Not once in our entire marriage have I considered something like that."

"Liar," she said but she was smiling.

"Really!" I insisted.

"I believe you have never been unfaithful," she said. "But you used the word 'considered.' I know that you're lying about that."

I cleared the cobwebs from my addled brain.

"I have considered, briefly, what it would be like to have sex with a random woman on the street, perhaps," I started. "But I have never considered having an affair or looking for a replacement."

"That's better," she said. She still hadn't moved off my lap.

"Uh, Gail," I said. "I think this would be easier if we sat a little farther apart."

"Too bad," she said. "You are my husband. I have a right to sit on your lap if I want to. It's in the rule book."

I knew it was a lost cause. I also knew that when I finally convinced her that we needed to be divorced, it was safer with her on my lap. There were fewer things for her to use as projectiles nearby.

"I want a divorce," I stated firmly. "Not because I have met or even hope to meet another woman, but because I no longer wish to be married to you."

There, I'd said it.

"I refuse to grant the divorce," she said just as firmly. "I insist we try to salvage the marriage."

"What is left to salvage, Gail?" I wondered. I couldn't think of anything.

"A lot!" she claimed.

"Name a few things," I insisted. "Without using material possessions, what do we have worth saving?"

Gail stared at me.

"Well, off the top of my head, I say we have the 10 years we have invested in the other," she offered. "That is worth a lot — at least to me."

She was right about that. We each had made sacrifices for the other. Gail had delayed graduate school until I could get established. I had turned down a couple of pretty nice job offers so she wouldn't have to transfer colleges.

I smiled a little. It felt awkward.

"OK, I concede that there is a lot of time that we would have to accept as wasted," I countered.

"Wasted!" she exclaimed. "Is that what it was to you?"

I nodded.

"I guess we would have to chalk it up to that," I said. "We invested a great deal of time and energy into a partnership that doesn't work. What else would you call it?"

Gail sat silently.

"I don't consider the time we spent together as a waste," she said softly.

I decided to try a different tact.

"As it stands now, we do little together besides share the same bed," I said. "We don't share common interests any longer. We don't even share common goals any more. I have gone to my last two company picnics alone because you were working. You went to your firm's Christmas party alone last year because I didn't want to go. We listen to different music and enjoy different types of movies. We can't even discuss literature because we read different types of books. We have different friends and different things we look for in friends. And we fight about everything! We're no longer compatible if we ever were."

Gail sighed heavily and got off my lap.

"You might like my friends if you gave them a chance," she declared.

"Ditto," I shot back.

She nodded.

"I have met a few of your friends," I replied. "I don't enjoy their company. I don't enjoy their husbands' company much either. I don't want to learn how to golf. They don't want to learn how to fix a lawn mower. You have the same problem with my friends' wives. Admit it."

"I do admit it," she said somewhat sheepishly. "I mean, we used to get along when we were all in college. But it seems like some of them haven't got away from that mindset yet."

I looked at her questioningly.

"You see them at activities that are designed to be fun," I said somewhat bewildered. "They don't act that way all the time. If we have a cookout or go to a ballgame, it's a license to act a little immature. They adjust their behavior accordingly for different facets of their lives."

Gail blushed.

"Oh," was the entirety of her reply.

"That's what I mean," I said. I was on a roll now.

"We used to able to have fun," I continued. "We could go out to dinner at Red Lobster and then hit a mini golf course and an ice cream stand. Now, it's a four-star restaurant and an opera. I like to leave the stick for my ass at work."

I saw anger flash across Gail's face.

"Which is perfect for the type work you do," she said fiercely. "I don't have that option. My firm is one of the most prestigious in the state. I am looked upon as their representative even when I am away from there."

I nodded.

"Which is well and good for you," I said. "But it doesn't mean that I want to be married to a representative of Dewey, Cheatham and Howe at all given times."

"It's Dunwoody, Carlson and Hewitt," she said absently.

"My point remains the same," I said.

Gail started to get a thoughtful look on her face.

"I didn't realize it had gotten this bad," she said sadly.

"It has," I replied. "I know I'm no better. I sometimes purposefully act like an idiot just to piss you off. Not that you could tell those time readily because my normal behavior isn't that far off."

A frown creased Gail's face.

"So it comes down to my career or you?" she asked.

"No," I stated evenly. "It comes down to your career."

"I told you I'm not willing to go through a divorce," she said. "I can make this process last for five years if I want to."

I shrugged.

"I told you I'm not in a hurry to get remarried or anything," I said.

Gail crossed her arms and stared at me. I decided to tell her the truth.

"Gail, when I left the house the other night I couldn't remember when the last time I kissed you goodbye was. I couldn't remember the last time we made love. I couldn't remember the last time one of told the other that we loved them. I honestly don't think you love me and I'm not sure that I love you. We have a comfortable life in terms of possessions. We both bring in plenty of money and all that. But there is really nothing binding us together."

Gail looked at the table top.

"That's what Jen told me," she said after a few seconds. "She told me I was going to lose you."

"Uh, you had already lost me by the time you went there," I said.

Gail looked up at me quickly.

"Not this time," she said sourly. "She told me that last summer — right before I blacked her eye for her."

I raised my eyebrows.

"She told me that she couldn't understand why you put up with my crap," Gail said and tears started fresh. "She told me that unless I got my shit together that you would eventually realize that you wanted out."

There wasn't much I could say. I guess Jen had seen the signs even when I didn't. Instead I rubbed my tired eyes.

"I didn't believe her," Gail continued. "I told her she was just pissed off because her marriage fell apart. She told me her marriage fell apart because she was just like you and I was just like her ex-husband. It had to be my way or no way."

"I guess she was right," I said. "But like I said before, it isn't about who did what or when. It's about compatibility. If you would have taken her advice, we still would have problems. As I told you, you're happy with your life. I can't ask you to change who you are. It isn't fair. But it's also not fair to me to go through life unhappy either."

"Can we at least try counseling?" Gail asked. "If we see a therapist for a few months and things don't change, we can have this discussion then."

"So we shell out $5,000 for someone to tell us what we already know? Is that your solution?" I asked.

Gail's eyes burned brightly so I raised my hands to forestall the onslaught.

"Exactly what are you willing to change and what do you ask me to change?" I asked. "That is a good starting point. I mean, it's not like I can wave a magic wand and have anything in common with your friends. It's not like you can take a pill and suddenly like to go to baseball games."

"We've never gone to a baseball game together," she stated defensively.

"You bitch and complain when I ask you to watch one on TV with me," I said. "I can imagine what it would be like to convince you to drive two hours and sit through something you find extremely boring. Believe me, I wouldn't inflict that upon another living soul."

Realization settled on Gail's face.

"You really hated that didn't you?" she asked. I knew what she was talking about.

"With a passion that borders on insanity," I replied.

"But you went again last year," she said.

I nodded while rolling my eyes.

"You seemed to enjoy it," I offered. "It was only one evening out of my life. I was willing to put up with men in tights for you one evening a year. But if you would have gotten a season pass, you would have been going with someone else."

"Thank you," she said sadly. "You're right about baseball, too. I would have hated going. It just doesn't interest me."

"I feel the same about ballet," I rejoined. "I'm sure it takes amazing dedication and athleticism, but I would rather watch grass grow. In fact, I would rather learn how to play golf than see another ballet performance."

"Ye Gods!" Gail exclaimed. "Don't tell me you would rather watch golf on television, too."

"Close," I said with a smile. "It is very close. I would have to give the edge to golf on TV simply because I don't have to dress up and drive 70 miles to do it."

Gail smiled broadly.

"I guess I knew that," she said. "At least I should have known that if I didn't. I promise, no more ballet or opera. How is that for a start to reconciliation?"

I closed my eyes. When I opened them, Gail's smile had become a grimace.

"You really want a divorce," she stated. It wasn't a question.

"Want one? Probably not," I said. "But I think we need one. I think we each deserve someone to spend our lives with and I'm extremely sad that you are not that person for me."

"But in a year or two things will settle down at the office," she insisted. "I'll be better at what I do and it won't take so much time away from us."

"In a year or two," I said. There was no reason to finish my statement.

"I will quit tomorrow if that's what it takes," she said.

I tipped my head back and looked at the ceiling.

"And in the aforementioned year or two you'll be unhappy because of what you had to give up," I offered. "In a year or two you'll be unfulfilled and unhappy and resent me for it. Believe me, it was a year or two ago that you made your proclamation about children. I know where that leads."

"You need children to be fulfilled?" she asked somewhat incredulously.

"I don't know about that," I said. "I think I mostly resent the fact that you made that decision unilaterally. The same way that you decided to accept your new responsibilities at work with no discussion. I thought it was unfair because of some of the positions I turned down because of the inconvenience for you."

"But that was while I was in school," she said. "There was no reason for me not to take my new job."

"Perhaps that is what I would have said," I replied. "In fact, I'm almost certain it would have been exactly what I said. But I think the lack of courtesy you displayed in making the decision without me made me start to think. I mean, we didn't talk about the additional hours or the additional responsibilities. Those things affect me, too. Just like moving to San Jose or Denver would have affected you. Perhaps not as graphically, but I think you can see the correlation."

"I really don't," she said with a wave of her hand. "But I can see that it was inconsiderate of me not to at least have offered you the chance. Although, in my defense, there is little that you could have said that would have changed my mind. It was what I had worked for from the moment I got hired there."

"See, that is another issue that we can never resolve," I said. "You work for prestige, position and promotion. I work to have enough money to live. As I'm sure you've noticed, I not very good at the corporate politics game."

"You work for yourself," Gail rejoined. "You don't have to play politics to get ahead. You're responsible only to you."

"And you," I replied. "I took a lot of good paying contracts in the beginning that I didn't really want simply because we needed them in order to survive. The day you finished school was a double bonus for me. I was proud for what you accomplished but I also knew that I would never have to put up with Bob Hartung and his idiot children again."

Gail tilted her head and looked at me speculatively.

"I thought you lost that contract," she said. "I mean, it was a huge chunk of money he paid."

"I lost it because I didn't bid on it again," I said. "And it is a huge chunk of money because no one would work with the asshole for anything less. The same is true with the Green account and the Bock account. I took them and kept them for three years because it was what needed to be done so we could afford tuition and still eat on what I was bringing home. Once you got your master's, I dropped those folks like a hot rock. With you working — and with us not having to shell out $15,000 a year in tuition, I said 'fuck it' and let them go."

"I'll be damned," she said. "One of the reasons I wanted to at the top of my department was for the money. I knew that losing those contracts had to hurt us financially, so I worked my butt off to try to make up for it."

I gave a chuckle.

"Don't get me wrong, the money was nice," I said. "But, all in all, I would have rather had more of your time. That's the other reason I let those accounts go. They took up a great deal of my time away from work. With you not having a night class or two any longer, I wanted to have that time to us. Of course, it turns out I could have kept them since you would work late one night a week and go out with your friends on Wednesdays."

"We've been through this before," Gail said hotly. "There are times I have to work late. And it's not like you're going to accompany me to any of the get-togethers my friends invite us to."

I held up my hands in resignation.

"You're right," I said. "I'm not. And once we're divorced, you're more than welcome to find a new husband who can stomach your upwardly-mobile, incredibly insecure friends. I mean, the only time they seem to have any confidence is when they're tearing down someone else. They simply are not my type of people."

Gail's eyes narrowed.

"They don't do that!" she said loudly.

"Holy shit!" I said. "First off, keep your voice down. Secondly, don't even think about throwing any of my shit around here. Third of all, listen to them some time. Hell, you get just like them when you're around them. The last company get-together I went with you, you spent the entire evening with the legal staff cronies tearing down the partners' trophy wives. Remember that?"

Gail had the grace to blush.

"A less secure man than me would think that each of you were looking to move up in the food chain a bit," I said bitterly.

Gail's mouth widened but nothing came out.

"Jeff, I swear, it's nothing like that," she said quickly. "I promise you, at least from my part. But I can see where you are coming from.

"But your friends get together and drink beer and talk hockey or guns or cars. The women sit around sharing decorating or recipe tips. I don't dig that scene either."

"I know you don't," I said. "That is why once we're divorced, I will be free to look for someone who is less obvious about her displeasure when she is around people I like. Just like you will have the same option."

"Ha!" she said. "At least I didn't threaten to kick someone's ass."

"If one of my friend's wives had tried to stick her tongue in my mouth under the mistletoe you would have just let it go?" I asked.

"That was not someone's husband," she said. "He was a junior partner of the firm."

"That makes it better," I said sarcastically. "Actually, it makes it worse because he should have known better. And you'll notice that no one came to his defense. Not that what he did was in any way defensible. You should have sued his ass for sexual harassment."

"And lost my job?" she asked.

"And kept your self-respect or at least regained some of the respect I lost for you that night," I replied. "You were the only one pissed off at me. Do you realize that? Everyone else — even your friends I don't care for — took my side. At least publicly they did. I'm not sure what they said in private."

I saw tears in Gail's eyes.

"Privately, they transferred the guy to the outermost region of the state," she said. "It might have been a coincidence but they also sent him to alcohol rehab shortly afterward. My friends didn't mention it much. Except Susan, that is. She told me again and again how lucky I was to have a guy to stick up for me.

"You really lost respect for me that night?"

"Hell yes," I said hotly. "It seemed to me that you were willing to do almost anything to keep your job. If you put up with him pulling you under the mistletoe without protest, I'm sure he would have taken that as a sign that you would be willing to let him pull you under the desk, too."

"Bullshit," Gail said just as angrily. "He didn't even remember it the next day. Or so I'm told. I guess the partners gave him the word that if he came within 100 yards of me he would be fired."

"You seem disappointed by that," I shot back. "Maybe he wasn't doing anything he hadn't done before."

"Fuck you," Gail hissed.

"I'm just saying, Gail," I started. "You seem plenty pissed off at me about it. But I doubt you would feel the same if the situation was reversed. Hell, Jen patted my ass at your family reunion five years ago and I thought you would rip her arm off."

Gail's eyes bore into me.

"Well, you didn't say anything," she said. "You just passed it off like a joke. I know my sister. If I would have let that slide, she would have grabbed the front next time. And by the time we left she would have blown you in the closet."

I shook my head dismissively.

"What would have happened is the next time I had a moment out of earshot of your entire family, I would have gently told Jen that I didn't find her attention appropriate or warranted."

"Which is exactly what I would have said to Len Spencer," Gail replied.

"Looks like neither of us got to handle things diplomatically then," I said with a shrug. "But, back on point, this conversation has been fascinating, but it only proves what I said. With each passing minute, we are growing more combative and more defensive."

Gail sat back in her chair.

"Six weeks," she said. "If we try a counselor for six weeks and we get nowhere — or before that if he or she says it is a waste of time — we'll split things up. Is that a deal?"

I chewed on my lip for a moment.

"With a few caveats, I think it is worthwhile," I said. "First, we need to be able to meet individually as well as together. I think that is important."

Gail nodded.

"Second, and this is a deal breaker," I continued. "We need to set up a solid time for group meetings. I am unwilling to reschedule this because something last minute came up. You can reschedule your individual meetings if you choose, so long as you don't miss any of them. And by not missing any of them, I don't mean you have six meetings in one week. I mean that you go no more than 10 days between individual meetings and have at least six sessions with the person on your own before we make any firm decisions. If you are unable to do this, let me know now."

Gail drummed her fingers on the table.

"That is an awful big block of my time," she said almost to herself. "What if something comes up that I can't get out of?"

I shrugged.

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Ma/Fa / Romantic /