It was nearly two weeks before my doctor started making noises about releasing me from the hospital. By that time, I was getting around pretty well by myself. The catheter the hospital staff had put on had been removed after the third day and, although painful at first I could get to the bathroom on my own, and a couple of days after that I even managed to take showers by myself.
Ashley showed up every day, and when she wasn't at the hospital visiting, she called me several times a day to let me know where she was, and what she was doing.
I asked her to stop calling so much because it was not only annoying but her daily itinerary was of very little interest to me.
Each day that she showed up, she looked a little more run down and a little more depressed, as though she had spent the previous night doing much more crying and worrying than getting any actual sleep. Furthermore, during every single visit she persisted on telling me how sorry she was, how much she loved me and only me, and how she didn't even understand herself how she could have done what she had done, despite how often I told her it wasn't important, and that I really didn't want to hear it.
On one occasion, she looked at me with moisture forming at the corner of her eyes and said, "Oh god, Tom, I'm so ashamed. I swear to you, it wasn't planned. I guess I was just so drunk that night. Honest to god, honey ... I hardly even remember anything happening between us ... I..."
I sat up in bed, grimaced with pain, which stopped her from talking as she quickly jumped up and started to come forward in order to comfort me. I waved her off with my hand, and after she had sat down again I calmly said, "Ashley, you've told me all that a dozen times or more already, and I've tried to assure you that it really doesn't matter. What does matter to me is that you be more discreet in the future. It would really bother me if outsiders or other family members, including our children, started thinking of me as some kind of wimp, cuckold husband that..."
I never got to finish my sentence because Ashley burst into tears, jumped up and then dashed out the door. I could hear her short heals clicking on the tiled floor as she ran down the hospital hallway toward the elevators.
After that Ashley didn't try to offer any farther reason for her actions with Jeff to me, and she simply sat quietly looking at me during her subsequent visits.
My children, Arlene and Jeffrey also visited me quite often, sometimes arriving with Ashley and at other times with other family members. They were always bubbly and excited and told me how proud they were of me. They told me how my picture had been in the local newspapers and on the TV newscasts for several days and how they themselves had become somewhat of celebrities with a lot of their fellow students and teachers at school wanting to talk to them about their hero father.
Amber and Amy also dropped by just about every day, bringing with them flowers, candy, magazines, or anything else they could think of to make my hospital stay more comfortable.
Conspicuous by his absence, at least to me, was Jeff, who never showed up again after that first day. He obviously realized, and correctly so, that I didn't ever what to see him again. I had no idea what he had told Amber or Amy about why he didn't come visit the man that had saved his wife and daughters life, and I really didn't care, besides, whatever, he had told them seemed to have satisfied them because they never mentioned anything about it to me.
Two police detectives also showed up and questioned me but the interview didn't last long because they already had the entire story from any number of eyewitnesses.
My boss from the office showed up one day and told me to take all the time I needed to recuperate before returning to work. He assured me that everyone in the office, including upper management considered me a hero and were behind me one hundred percent.
I was scheduled to be released from the hospital that following Friday but not wanting Ashley to come and get me, I managed to talk my doctor into releasing me a day early. I suppose I wanted to punish Ashley even farther by getting home on my own thereby subtly letting her know that I really didn't need her.
Having previously asked my son and daughter to bring me a change of clothing, on Thursday, I got dressed, called a taxi and then after clearance from hospital administration I was promptly wheeled out of the hospital by one of the volunteers at around 11 am.
"A cab should be here any second now," I told him just as a taxi rounded the corner and pulled to a stop in front of us.
After the cab dropped me off, not surprisingly, I found the house to be unoccupied. Ashley was undoubtedly still at work and both the kids in school. Ashley had gotten into the habit of visiting me in the hospital at around 3:30 pm each day. Her workday didn't usually end until 4:30 pm so I assumed she had been getting off work a little early while I was convalescing in the hospital.
A quick peek through the side kitchen door into the garage verified that Ashley's car was indeed gone but mine was there. Obviously, someone had driven it home from the convenience store/gas station after my confrontation with the bad guys.
I noticed the phone answering machine light flashing so I pressed the playback button and listened to the recorded messages. There were a few messages from the local newspaper office and TV stations requesting an interview along with a number of goodwill praises from a few friends and neighbors, and one message from someone that had not left his name, which simply said, "Forgive me..." That voice, I recognized. "Not likely Jeff," I said to the mute phone as I erased the machine.
I just stood there looking at the dead phone. Jeff's voice and those two words: "forgive me" did something to me, and suddenly I felt only emptiness. The inside of my body felt as though it had been hollowed out to be replaced by a cold, dark void. Then, even as I stood there that void also began to dissipate. Instead of that cold emptiness, I could only experience one powerful and controlling emotion: anger.
I don't know how long I just stood there letting that anger boil inside me, feeling like I was on a wild roller coaster ride, until I eventually started feeling all shaky and dizzy. Then remembering that it was I that had chosen the form of punishment to inflict upon my unfaithful wife and best friend, I knew I needed to come down; become level in order for that punishment to be effective. I imagined myself walking a long stone staircase leading down a mountain side. With each descending step, I felt myself getting closer and closer to a controlled state, and eventually I managed to force my anger way back down deep inside me somewhere.
I went to the kitchen and heated up a can of condensed vegetable soup and then made myself a ham and cheese sandwich. After eating hospital food for ten days even this pedestrian food tasted pretty damned good to me, and I felt a lot better.
After cleaning up the lunch dishes, I walked upstairs. I wanted to make sure I could manage the staircase without causing myself a lot of pain due to my injury. It wasn't a problem. A little twitch here and there was the extent of it but no real pain.
I stood in the doorway looking inside the master bedroom staring at our marital bed. I shuddered and felt my stomach heave as deep feelings of loss, betrayal, and disgust came over me. I felt heartbroken because of what she had done to our marriage wondering if I could ever bring myself to forgive her. "How do I get past this?" I asked myself. I still loved her, I knew that, but I also hated her just as strongly at the same time.
"Give it some time and see what happens," I told myself ... however, I knew if I could not get past it, I would have to move on ... leaving her would be better for me, her and our two children in the long run, unless I could truly learn to let it go.
Moving to the hallway closet I pulled down a couple of spare pillows, two sheets and a blanket and then I made my way back downstairs. After depositing the bedding items onto the couch in the den, I retrieved an empty cardboard box from the garage and went back to upstairs where I filled it with my toiletries from the master bath and then added several pairs of socks, underwear, and numerous other clothing items from the bedroom closet and dresser into it.
The toiletries I placed in the downstairs bathroom and the clothing items I left inside the box which I placed in one corner of the den.
After making up the den couch into a bed I felt a bit fatigued so I plopped down onto the recliner in the family room and promptly fell asleep.
I awoke to the sound of my daughter, Arlene's, excited voice yelling, "Daddy, daddy, you're home! You're so awesome! Can I hug you or will it hurt you too much?" She asked as she ran over toward me after dropping her backpack onto the carpet.
"It would only hurt if you didn't hug me princess," I told her with a smile as I scooted forward and extended my arms.
I hugged my little girl and gave her a few kisses on the cheek and forehead when my son Jeffrey came into the room.
"Hi dad, you're home, cool," He said acting like all grown up.
"Yep, I'm home," I told him with a smile.
"Cool," he repeated and then added, "Can I see your scar later?"
"Sure, after the dressing comes off. Right now I'm afraid there's not much to see but a big old bandage." I told him.
"Now that you're home maybe mommy won't be so sad all the time." Arlene said after giving me a kiss on the cheek and stepping back.
"Yeah, she's been a real pain," Jeffrey added.
I was about to scold Jeffrey for that comment concerning his mother when Mrs. Wilson, the elderly widow from across the street came in.
Juliet Wilson was in her late sixties, she had lost her husband a number of years ago to cancer, and she watched over Jeffrey and Arlene for about an hour each day during the week after school when the bus dropped them off until either Ashley or I got home from work. She refused to take any money for watching the kids, but I made sure to take care of any maintenance that was needed around her home as compensation even though she always insisted it was not necessary.
"It's just grand to see your home and well, Tom." Juliet said with a big smile on her face. "You did good, Tom. You did very good. Why, the whole neighborhood is talking about what a big hero you are."
"I'm not a hero. I'm..." I started to argue.
"Now don't you go playing down what you did to me Tom King. Why, if what you did couldn't be called doing hero work, well then, I guess I don't know what real hero work is." She responded cutting my words off.
"If you say so, Juliet. Hey, maybe I should consider getting myself one of those tight shirts with a big 'S' on the front." I joked.
"There you go again making light of what you did. Now you just think about that little girl and expectant mother and where they would be right now if you hadn't of done what you did without even a moment's thought about your own safety. You just think about that now." She told me while waggling an index finger at me.
"You've got me there, Juliet. I won't argue with you. So, have these two been behaving themselves?" I asked indicating Arlene and Jeffrey with head nods.
"They're a right pair of angels, they are. Why, one couldn't ask for better behaved, better mannered young people than these two here." She was grinning as she said that, and I noticed Jeffrey blushing.
Just then Ashley came rushing in. As soon as she spotted me, she anxiously said, "Tom? Thank god you're home. I went to the hospital, and they said you checked out this morning. What happened? I didn't think you were supposed to come home until tomorrow."
"Yeah well, I got out a day early." I answered coldly.
"Why didn't you call me? I would have come and gotten you."
"I didn't see the need, so I just caught a cab." I answered without emotion.
"Well, I guess I best be on my way," Juliet said, "Good to see you home and well Tom." She said to me and then turning to Ashley, she said, "You take good care of that man of yours. He's one in a million."
Ashley just nodded while looking down at her feet.
After Juliet left, I looked over at my kids and asked, "So, you guys got any homework?"
Both just groaned.
"Well, get to it. After that you can play video games or watch TV or something until dinner's ready."
They both groaned again, then Arlene kissed me on the cheek and said, "I'm so glad you're all right, daddy. I love you so much." Then she hurried away to her bedroom upstairs.
At the entryway to the family room Jeffery stopped, turned and then looking at me, he said, "I'm really proud of you dad, and I'm really glad you're okay too." Then he was gone.
I looked over at Ashley and noticed she was silently sobbing. Then looking up she said, "Tom, I..."
"Ashley!" I cut her off abruptly.
She swallowed twice and then said, "What would you like for dinner. I'll fix anything you want. If we don't have it here I'll run to the store, or fast food, or maybe you'd like something from the steak house? I don't mind. I'll get whatever you feel like."
"Actually, I fixed myself a late lunch, so I'm not hungry. Just fix whatever for the kids. I think I'll just go lay down in the den for a while." I answered dispassionately.
"The den? Why not up in our bedroom?" She asked.
"I've already made up the den couch into a bed. I'll be sleeping in there, for the time being." I responded.
"Oh god! Tom please. I..." She started but once again I cut her words off. However, this time my voice was calm and cold.
"Ashley, we've discussed this a number of times already. Now please, the only thing I'm asking of you ... no, the only thing I'm begging of you, is that you be more discreet in the future. That's all. Just don't throw it in my face. I couldn't deal with that again. Please."
She studied me, and it seemed she was looking for something she recognized, in the deep recesses of my eyes. Whatever she saw appeared to frighten her and she turned away.
I walked away without looking back and then I closed the den door behind me.
So, that set the pace for our happy family life; I was miserable, Ashley was miserable, and our children knew something was not right between their mom and dad, but they kept it to themselves and never mentioned anything.
Because both Ashley and I had full time jobs it had become the norm that we shared the household duties. Half the time I got the kids up, fixed them breakfast, filled their lunch boxes, got them ready for school, and prepared dinner that night, and Ashley would perform these duties the other half of the time. But because I was still recuperating and not working I took on these duties full time. Ashley made every effort to pitch in but I always waved her off or had everything done, including grocery shopping, by the time she got off work.
Dinner became a somber affair for our family. Ashley and I were cordial to one other, but it was obvious, not only to us but also to our children that we were not communicating as husband and wife. I tried not to let my feelings concerning Ashley affect my relationship with my children, making sure they knew I was interested in what was going on in their lives but that did little to dispel the gloom that hung over the dinner table and our home.
I could see that Ashley was trying to show me just how remorseful she was. She was more attentive to my needs, and she constantly tried to show me that her love for me was still very much alive, but I rebuked all these attempts, and she soon gave up out of frustration.
I did spot an envelope, left in plain sight where I was certain to notice it, with a return address indicating that it was from Ashley's doctor. I assumed the letter inside would verify that all the tests that had been run on Ashley had come back negative, and that she was STD free, but I never bothered to look inside and just left it untouched where it lay.
Then one evening a little over a week after I had gotten home from the hospital I had just gotten back from shopping and was putting away groceries when Ashley came into the kitchen and said, "Ah ... Tom? Amber called while you were out. She asked us over to dinner sometime next week. She said she wanted to cook something special for you and in some small way thank you for all you did for her and Amy."
"I don't think so," I answered not turning away from the task at hand.
"Why not? What can I tell her?" Ashley questioned.
I stopped what I was doing, turned and looked directly into my wife's eyes, and then in a composed voice I said, "I don't give a damn what you tell her. There is no way I'll ever again be in the same room with you and Jeff together watching the two of you make cow eyes at each other, or even worse yet, me having to endure the smirk on Jeff's face because he's been intimate with my wife and is cuckolding me. Hell, Ashley, go call Jeff right now, I'm sure the two you can come up with something plausible to tell Amber. Or just go over there without me. Heck, maybe you and Jeff can sneak in a quickie while Amber's busy cooking."
Ashley burst into tears, turned and ran from the room. I felt like shit.
Two weeks passed and I never heard another word about dinner at the Burton's. Amber hadn't even tried to call me directly. Who knew?
One evening I was in the den working on my computer trying to catch up on work having made plans to return to work that following Monday when I heard a knock on the closed door.
I got up, opened the door and found Ashley standing there.
"May I come in for a moment please?" She asked tentatively.
I waved her in and she just stood there wringing her hands for several long seconds, and then she finally said, "Tom, I just can't go on like this any longer. I know it's all my fault and I blame myself completely, but I can't even begin to tell you how horrible I feel, and believe me, Tom, you can't hate me any more than I hate myself." Ashley paused for a moment to wipe her eyes, and then she continued.
"I know you don't believe me but I swear to you I have never done anything like that before. Not with Jeff or anyone else."
I shook my head and then said, "Look at it from my perspective for one moment Ashley. One, I would never have even imagined that my closest friend of more than twenty years could betray me the way he did. And even more unimaginable than that, is that my wife, my partner, my best friend, lifelong soul mate, and mother of my children would betray me like that. Just think about it Ashley, you saw how Jeff kept handing me beers all day long, and you're fully aware what having more than three or four beers in a short period of time does to me? At the time I thought Jeff was just screwing around so I would be worthless by noon, and then he'd have some fun at my expense in front of the family. However, now I see the plan was not to rag me but rather to get me drunk enough so that the two of you could go off and fuck each other without me being in the way."
Ashley looked at me and then the pained expression on her face turned to one of anger and with a strong voice she said, "I fully recognize how badly I fucked up! God knows I recognize it Tom! But, like you, I would never have imagined that you could think so little of me as to knowingly be a part of getting you drunk just so I could sleep with Jeff. As god is my witness, I did not plan anything! I have not, I do not, and I never will think of Jeff in any sexual manner. That you can think so little of me that I would jeopardize my marriage, my children, my love and friendship with Amber and Amy just so I could get a little on the side tells me a lot about our relationship, and what you actually think of me! You may not want to hear it, but I'm going to tell you anyway. I do not remember a damned thing about that night after you went to bed. I do not remember undressing, I do not remember fucking Jeff, I do not remember one god damned thing until Agnes woke me up the next morning, and I found myself lying naked in bed with Jeff. Do you honestly think I would knowingly do something as sordid as sleeping with Jeff knowing how much it would hurt you or hurt Amber? If sleeping with Jeff had been my goal, I can assure you I would never have had unprotected sex. Christ, you've had a vasectomy, so I'm not even on the pill! Do you think for one minute I would take a chance on getting pregnant? And if it had been planned I can assure you I wouldn't have been so stupid to remain in his bed all damned night long knowing full well that you'd come looking for me in the morning!"
Then in a softer voice she looked at me, a plea evident in her eyes, and she said, "Tom, I love you. I would never knowingly do anything to hurt you, if nothing else, please believe that."