"Murphy, I can't do this anymore. You disrespecting me is not acceptable. I'm done," I said. "Even once more and I'm gone." We were standing out toward the backyard fence. I'd pulled her there, her resisting, to have it out with her, party or not. This was one time that I wasn't going to be waitin' until we got home, not this time.
"Jack, stop being so pissy. It was just a birthday kiss. It's Don's birthday. Everybody gets kissed on their birthdays," said Murphy. Her words made me think back to my own birthday two months earlier.
"You remember my birthday, Murphy? You remember where you were?" I said. She looked at me funny.
"Oh, well, we're married," she giggled. "It's not the same thing," she said.
"Yes, well, I remember. You said you had to help Don out with some stuff at the office, so you'd be a little late to the party—my birthday party! My birthday party goddamn it! And, I never did get a birthday kiss. By the time you did get back, everyone had left! It was humiliating that my wife—my very own wife—never even made so much as a formal appearance. And, now I catch you making out with that asshole while I'm just a few feet anyway in the next room. You get off humiliating me, Murphy? Make you feel good fucking me over!
"Like I said, Murph, I'm done. You're either my wife or you're not," I said.
"Jack, I apologized for missing your party. I felt awful about that. And, I promise, since it bothers you so much, no more birthday kisses for Don. Okay?"
"No, it's not okay. Here's how it's going to be. You're going back in there, now, and tell him you are quitting your job. No more late nights at the office and no more Don on any level," I said.
"Or what?" she said.
"Or, I'm gone, like I said."
"Oh Jack, you are being so juvenile. Just calm down. We'll settle this when we get home. You'd think I was fucking him for chryssakes! It was just a birthday kiss, Jack, nothing more. Just calm down," she said.
She broke away from me and headed into the house. As she reached the sliding glass doors that led off the patio, Donald met her. The two of them talked animatedly for a moment. Then, shock of shocks, she touched his cheek, as if to say that everything would be all right; and then, he leaned in and kissed her. She didn't push him away, but she did glance in my direction a worried look spreading across her features. I'm sure, that even at that distance, she could read the steel in my eyes.
That last kiss ended my marriage. All of the shouting and running about still had to play out. But, we were done as a married couple as of that moment: she hadn't pushed him away.
I threw the bottle of beer, that I'd been holding, against the slate stone that lined good 'ole Don's rock garden and headed for the backyard gate. I had to get out of there before I did something felonious. The two of them had already disappeared back inside.
A number of people, mostly Don's friends, looked over toward me as the shattered glass splintered in all directions; some of them smiled; I wondered at that. "Whaddya all smiling at," I said way too loud, "my marriage just died! You think that's funny!" The smiles disappeared to be replaced by a pregnant murmur.
It was all my fault of course. She'd been disrespecting me for so long that my threats probably meant nothing to her. In her mind, I was sure, she saw me as once again just going home in a snit, followed by her granting me a little mercy sex; then, waiting me out as the problem passed into our emotional history, like it always had, to be forgotten and never mentioned again. She was wrong if that is what she thought.
And, the night wasn't over as I soon discovered. As if the hands of some perverse god were somehow in the mix, things escalated geometrically. Indeed, it seemed the fates had decreed that I would be having plenty more motivation to break it off with Murphy McBride, nee Poe, once and for all.
I passed through the gate took at the side of the house, and took the flagstone stepping stones two at a time on the way to my car. Just as I was about to round the corner of the garage and head to my car at the curb some yards away, I heard voices. I recognized them right away. I stayed back in the shadows, just around the corner of the building from them.
"No, Don, we have to cool it. He's really mad. I don't know what I was thinking making out with you in the den while he was just in the kitchen next door," said Murphy. "And you kissing me just now—I mean in front of him, fucking seconds after he'd read me the riot act! Jesus, are you crazy!"
"What you were thinking was that you wanted to have some fun. And, what I was thinking was the same thing, and frankly it was little enough," said Donald Petty.
Good 'ole Don owned and operated a chain of female hair salons, Don's Beauty Stops. He'd hired Murphy as a hair dresser a year past, but had moved her into the office as his full time PA after no more than a month's time. For the record, I'm a body and fender man and a custom car painter, sole proprietor of Jack's McBride's Auto Body. I don't own a chain of stores, but I do make pretty big bucks doing what I do: six figures actually. The job is tough sometimes, and my hands can get real dirty, but I have a crew of three guys who work for me and we make do.
The dynamic duo had become friends, close friends, her term; and things had begun to become more and more testy between she and I as time went along. I could always wait on whatever I needed because Don was her boss and needed her more. I would sometimes catch at her office, when I came to take her to lunch or whatnot, with his hand on her shoulder, or even around her waist, and she just pooh-poohed my concerns. On at least two other occasions at parties I'd caught him kissing her. Tonight though, they weren't kissing; they were making out. Oh, and once at the lodge, where he and I are both members, he'd dominated her dance card to the point of embarrassing even her while humiliating me. That hadn't happened since, but that once, quite frankly, had been more than enough.
"Don, he caught us making out. He's threatened to leave me. If he ever found out what we were doing on his birthday; well, I don't even want to think about it," she said. That one did it for me. Not being one to procrastinate, I decided to finish it now. I rounded the corner and came up behind her. His face took on an indecipherable expression.
"And, just what was it you were doing on my birthday, Murphy?" I said. "Fucking him?" The look on her face as she spun around to face me said it all.
"I see," I said. "Your little, wimpyassed cuckold am I. Well, don't let me stand in your way. You kids have a nice time. Yuh hear?" I said.
"Jack! Wh—it's not what you think. It isn't. Let's go home and talk about it," she all but screamed. I smiled and headed for the car. She followed, but I didn't unlock the passenger side and drove off leaving her waving at me to come back. I was halfway down the block when I had a thought.
I put the car in reverse, stopped when I neared her, and motioned her to get in as I unlocked the door for her. She seemed to sigh with relief; I figured that that would be short lived.
As we headed home, she was quiet for a while. I wasn't saying anything either. Finally, she opened up; I guess she'd decided to be truthful and put it all out there, that surprised me.
"I was wrong," she said. "I've been treating you badly and I'm sorry. I mean it."
"He all that wonderful in the sack that you'd throw away our marriage," I said. She looked at me, a kind of sadness came over her features.
"Yes," she said, "if it comes to that." Tears were beginning to trail down the side of her face. "The bad part, though, is the way I've neglected you. You didn't deserve what I've been doing to you. I apologize and I will make it up to you; I mean if you don't divorce me."
"Better than me?" I said. "I do it your way or it's over. Sweet," I said. "Fucking sweet."
"Yes, Jack, he is better. And before you ask the inevitable masculine question, he's bigger by a lot too," she said.
"So, I guess you want the divorce then," I said. I was feeling so low I knew I'd have to look up to see my footprints.
"No. Absolutely not," she said. "I would never willingly leave you or go with him or anyone else. But, I know it's not up to me now."
Well, this was one night that was just full of surprises. I'd gone back to pick her up in order to get the bad stuff out of the way while I still had the image of them standing there talking about us hot in my mind to motivate me. I did not want to have a makeup session later, and I knew that if I cooled down a little, that she would get the upper hand, like always. Hell, I loved her for damn sure. I could forgive her anything, but things had gone too far this time—hadn't they? But, things were not playing out like I'd thought that they would.
"Why not? Why don't you want a divorce. You clearly don't care about me, at least in a sexual way anymore, if you ever did," I said.
"Because you're a man, he's just a player that happens to be all that in the sack, as you term it," she said. "You take care of me, love me, provide for me, make me laugh, feel safe—when you're not being all pissy and whiny that is. And, coincidentally, because I love you. Always have." I looked askance at her.
Never in my wildest, most outrageous and unrealistic dreams would I have thought that I would be having a conversation like this—not like this. "I will say, Murphy, that your incredibly candid words stop me. I mean they stop me cold. I expected you to either say good riddance or cry and beg for forgiveness. But, you didn't do either. You just—what—told it like it is," I said.
"I am begging for your forgiveness, Jack, and your understanding. Your understanding—because I can't stop," she said. I pulled the car over to the side of the road. I was shaking, shaking real bad.
"You drive," I said. "I can't. I really can't." I had to think and it was affecting my driving. What I would say next was out of character for me, really for any man. I needed to say it right.
"Huh?" she said.
I was already out of the car and coming around to the passenger side. I let her out and she looked at me like I was nuts. Without a word she went around and got behind the wheel. She looked at me.
"Weird," she said, as she pulled out and started to drive us home.
"You have no idea," I said.
The rest of ride was silent. Pulling in at home we both got our stuff and headed inside. The house was cool. I adjusted the thermostat.
I was pacing in the living room as she came out of the bathroom to whence she had retreated as soon as she'd set her bag down. She set herself down on the couch and stared at me, waiting.
"Murphy, the degree of honesty you have shown me tonight intrigues me and worries me and—leaves me with a smidgen of hope," I said. She looked askance at me.
"What I am saying, dear wife, is that I see you—and him—as a challenge. You say he's better than me in the sack," I said. She looked down. "Well, I say you mean 'so far' he's better than me in the sack. I aim to change that little reality."
"Jack, I don't mean to..." I interrupted her.
"Murphy, you gotta give me a chance. You say you want my forgiveness. Forget the damn forgiveness. Let me prove to you that he ain't all that.
"This evening, earlier this evening, when we were going at it, arguing, at his house, I really thought our marriage was over. I was ready to move out and never look at you again. And, if you aren't into what I'm saying here; that's still the plan. But, if you are willing to give me the chance to prove myself to you." She interrupted me.
"Jack, you have nothing to prove. And, as for the sack thing—well—Jack, you can't grow a bigger cock. And, I—I said it wrong before. I didn't mean that he was all that much better than you. But, he is different and he moves me in ways you don't because you are not him. That said, you move me in ways he can't.
"If I were talking to him, right now, instead of you, I would be telling him the same kinds of things. I mean that he can't do the things in the sack that you can. That's what I should have said," she said. I smiled. At least she had the decency to try and make me feel a little less bad. But, the reality was that she was lying to be kind to me, and we both knew it.
"Murphy, earlier you essentially told me that I could like it or lump it, but you weren't going to give him up. It's clear to me that you think that what he gives you is worth giving me the door for if I am not ready to accept my role as your cuckold. Or, am I wrong? Did I somehow misunderstand you?" she looked away.
"Yes, well, that's what I thought. The only question left then is whether or not you will let me give it the old college try. Or, whether I shouldn't bother. If the latter, I will pack now and leave. So what is it?" I said.
She was wringing her hands. I looked at her, stared at her. She was trying to find a way to turn me down with as little hurt as possible. Fucking wonderful! I wasn't even going to get a chance to try. Well, I guess I shoulda been used to the humiliation by now. I decided to say so.
"I see," I said. "Well, I guess I managed to humiliate myself pretty good here, again. I'll be outta your hair within the hour. At least I should say that I do appreciate your honesty. I'll see a lawyer on Monday." I turned and headed upstairs. I was fast; well, the adrenalin was flowing. I had three bags. I had them at the door in twenty-eight minutes. I turned to look at her one last time. "Goodbye, Murphy."
"Jack, I..." But, I was gone, struggling my stuff out the door as I went.
"No he left," she said. "He isn't coming back. We killed his heart, or I did. But, I didn't want to give him false hope and then have him despair of my love or any of it down the road."
"What was it he wanted exactly? Tell me again? I can't believe he thought..."
"Shut the fuck up, Don. No he can't do what you do. It just isn't in him. Even if he had the equipment, he couldn't do it. He's too—too much the good guy. If I wasn't so hung up on size and what you do to me..." she said.
"But, you are hung up on me. And, for the record, I'm hung up on you and what you bring to the table," said Don. "I can't believe he actually thought he could best me at my game. I'd almost have wished you'd have let him try. But, you're right, when he lost, and he would have lost; he would have been destroyed psychologically. You did the merciful thing."
"Maybe, but I feel like such a shit," she said.
He pulled her to him. He kissed her very lightly on her slightly parted lips. Her arms went around his neck and she kissed him back. One of his hands snaked up her side and found a soft and pliant breast that he massaged very gently; she mooed her evolving sexual high. She smiled. He might be a player, as the girls in his salons confided in her, but today, with her, he was definitely all hers. She giggled. Donald misinterpreting her laughter laughed too.
He gently nudged her back and began peeling her clothes off of her. He turned her and pulled her back to him. His hands wrapped around her and he felt her breasts for some moments, reveling in their incredible softness. He kissed her neck, then began sucking on it. She leaned back against him, eyes closed, letting him do the honors.
Some minutes later she was on her back with her legs, propped up on his shoulders, and pointed straight up at the ceiling. He was drilling her with a ferocity born almost of desperation as she cried for more and harder. The smell of sex was almost overpowering as they sweated and gasped and dribbled their saliva all over each other's most secret places.
Having rested for some little time, he flipped her over on her belly, pulled her ass up to a manageable height, and took her from behind. She grunted and made other unintelligible noises before screaming her intention to orgasm.
"Oh fuck that was good, honey," she said, as she sank into the mattress. He'd rolled off of her and lay with his own legs splayed and sweaty while he caught his breath.
"I will definitely second that," he said. "Think your husband would have measured up?"
"Donald, let's not be talking smack about Jack. I'm fucking him over, I know it, and he doesn't deserve it. At the very least we can stop bad mouthing him. Okay?" she said. He smirked.
"Yeah, that's cool," he said. "Hey, I feel sorry for the guy." She wrinkled her brow and for the first time in maybe a long time, the pangs of guilt began to assail her. Someday she would have to pay for her betrayals, she knew, and the realization of that little reality sapped some of the pleasure of the past hour from her.
"Yes, that is cool," she said almost to herself. Poor Jack, it was not his fault. None of it was his fault. He was what he was and Don was what he was.
After leaving the house, I headed for the Sweetwater Motel. It had the virtues of being cheap and close to the shop. I was good for a while with just what I'd scarfed from the house that night. But, at some point in the near future, I would have to be finding something a little more permanent.
Over the next few days I heard nothing from Murphy, no calls no emails, nothing. It was clear to me that she thought herself well rid of her pussywhipped, inadequately endowed husband. It was a bitter pill.
Sometimes it doesn't pay to get up in the morning. Since leaving her, that was becoming just about every day for me. I put myself into my work in a big way. I needed to anyway because Fred and Jimmy were gone for the next two weeks, and it was only me and Andy carrying the load. The work helped, but the nights were pretty bad. I was sure that hers weren't though; the thought killed my heart.
Love can turn to despair pretty quick if one isn't paying attention; I hadn't been. Yeah I know, I shoulda just broken it off with her, not talked myself into a hole like I did, but I couldn't. I needed her—real bad.
I never understood, why it was, that some men could just walk away from a woman, yes, even when it became clear that she just didn't want him anymore. In my mind emotional ties were just too damn tight to walk away from when the love was real. Mine was real. And the woman! How could she do that to her man, when that man was devoted to her to the point of pain like I was? The words of Sir Francis Bacon came back to me, well, I read a lot. How had he phrased it? "It is well said that for those who love, it is impossible to be wise," or something like that. But then again, he had also said, " ... great spirits and great business, do keep out this weak passion (love)."
That's it, I thought. I sure as hell ain't no wise man, but the other things, great business, great deeds; I could get into something like that. I had to do something big. Something that would be so big that my woman, for that matter any woman, could not resist me. She'd be driven to return to me. Yes, yes, I know some would say that I was thinking wrong. I should be thinking of revenge or at the very least forgetting her and getting on with my life. Well, in retort I would have to say, without fear of contradiction, that forgetting her or getting revenge on either of them would not solve my problem; it would only compound it. Well, that is, I would have said that until three minutes ago.
What am I talking about? Well, I am forty-two years old. Been out of high school for twenty-five years. Hadn't seen her since "her" senior prom; the her was Annette, my ex-high school girlfriend. She'd graduated the year after me. She'd dumped me the year before, my senior year, and I had taken another girl to her, their, prom, Margaret Wells was the girl's name: she'd asked me. I'd done my best to ensure that Margaret had a good time, but I had had to gnash my teeth as I watched Annette dancing with Gil Jensen the fucking third. My date, Margaret, was cute, and very willing; but she was not Annette. And three minutes ago Annette Lessing, well that had been her name back then, had walked into my shop.
She was still stunning, at least to me. In that instant my life changed; my attitude toward Murphy and Don baby changed. At least the potential for change was there. Annette had usurped my attention.
"Jesus-H-Q-reee-eyest," said Annette, staring at me.
"No, just Jack, Jack McBride," I said. "Haven't changed my name." I was smiling broadly.
"Funny, Jack, funny. How the heck have you been. It's been how long? Forever?" she said.
"Not good, Annette. Not good. Not since you dumped me. I've tried to settle for second best, but, well, you were just kind of irreplaceable," I said.
"Like I said, Jack, funny," she said, smirking. "You can't still be carrying a torch even for me after so many years, Jack, but it is flattering of you to say so." She was laughing out loud now.
"No, really, I never got over you. Curious. You marry Gil Jensen?" I said.
"No, no, Jack. I married Mark Wilson. You never knew him. Divorced last year," she said. "You?"
"Married Murphy Poe. A girl I met through friends. We're in the middle of getting a divorce now. She dropped the hammer on me just last night as a matter of fact," I said.
"Oh, sorry. I know it can be so hard. Mark cheated on me, and that was the end," she said. I wondered at that; I could not conceive of any man cheating on a woman like Annette.
"A common disease, I guess. Murphy dumped me for another guy; I caught 'em cheatin', sort of, and that was the end for us," I said. "So, you want to?"
"Want to what?" she said.
"Marry me. I figure my divorce will be final in a few months. We can honeymoon in Cancun or someplace," I said. She laughed.
"No, not ready for that yet, Jack. Thanks for the offer though," she said. "Uh, but I have a car problem." I didn't laugh.
"Car problem?" I said.
"Yes, over there, that car," she pointed. "I bought it for my son, Nicolas. He's almost eighteen now. I promised him a fancy dancy car if he graduated in the top ten of his high school class. He did. He wants flames or some wild thing like that. I heard of this place, but I had no idea it was your place. Anyway, I want to get it customized for his birthday next month. Can you help me?" she said.
The car was a fifty-five Chevy Belaire, a true classic. "Sure. It's what I do," I said.
"Can I ask how much it will cost me? The car itself cost me a ton," she said. I put on my pensive look. Something like she was talking about was going to run out somewhere around $3,000 to $5,000 dollars depending on what she thought of the pics and sketches that Andy would produce to give her an idea of what her son might go for. But...
This was Annette, not just any customer. "I can do it for a grand," I said. I knew I was going to hear from the boys on this one. Things had been a little slow and this was a live one.
"Really?" she said. Her smile closed the deal, at least for me. I'd make sure that the boys got paid the usual. They were on straight commission, except Andy, who got $50 for each sketch on top of his usual cut. But, I could fudge there and get the boys what they should be getting, I thought.
"Yeah, well that, and a dinner out with you," I said. I had to go for it; this was a once in a lifetime opportunity the way I looked at it.
She looked sideways at me. "Dinner?" she said.
"Yes, just dinner. For old time's sake, and you know, to catch up and stuff," I said.
"Okay," she said. "Friday evening?"
"Great. This is Monday. I should have the car done by then. I'll pick you up in it. But, first I have to let Andy over there work with you for a few minutes. He can show you some pics, sketch out some stuff for you too. Okay?" She nodded.
I had arrived to pick her up in the Belaire. She'd been properly impressed; the boys had spared no effort to do a good job since it'd seemed so important to me. We headed out to the Camel Lounge, an upscale bar and grill in the center of town. The parking attendant actually whistled when we drove up. I wasn't sure if it was at the car or Annette; both were worth the effort.
The date was a success, sort of. We ate and talked, and I even got a kiss goodnight. But, I was uneasy. I felt like a cheater. I wasn't. I never made a move on Annette, but I still felt funny going out with someone other than my wife. And then, that evening at home, at my little apartment, I had a visitor.
"Murphy!" I said. Talk about surprised, I was.
"May I come in Jack?" she said. I stood aside to let her enter. She looked around. I could only guess at what she thought of my humble surroundings. But, I knew that she knew I could afford better, so it didn't bother me.
"Well, at least there's no bed bugs," I said, as she took in the place. She looked embarrassed.
"Jack—I didn't mean—"
"What do you want Murphy?" I said. "And how did you find me?"
"Andy told me where you were staying.
"Jack, I felt horrible about the way we parted. I needed to come by and let you know that I have changed my mind about what you said, what you wanted," she said. "I was writing you off without giving you anything."
"You mean a chance to prove myself," I said. She didn't expect that, she wrinkled her brow. "That was a week ago, I've had time to think things over too, Murphy. I don't want to try and prove myself anymore. I was wimping out that night, not wanting to lose you; I was grasping at straws. I admit it; I'm a pussy when it comes to you. But, then after I left, I realized that I had already lost you, hadn't I. That was the real bottom line. I'm a loser, Murphy, when it comes to women; I know it; and I will somehow learn to live with it. But, what I am not going to live with is a woman, a so called wife, who is fucking around on me.
"So, is there anything else?" I said. She looked very hard into my eyes.
"Jack, I keep doing things wrong. I am really here hat in hand. I've told Don that he and I are over. You are too important to me to risk my losing you. So, I am here to ask that you come home with me, and let me start doing penance for my sins," she said. I think my mouth was hanging open. I gathered myself.
"What about the sex. You made it clear that I wasn't much, not near enough for you. What's changed?" I said.
"Sex isn't everything, Jack. Hell, it's damn little in the final analysis. You're plenty good enough for me, Jack," she said. I began to pace. I stopped.
"Murphy, that sex isn't everything, I completely agree. But, it is a big thing, not a little thing. If we stayed together the sex has to be good, not just tolerable. I don't want to wake up some morning and see you looking pensively off into space because you have nothing to look forward to but mediocre sex with me. I don't want you wondering if you made a mistake by not just cutting me out of your life and going with your lover. And, most of all, Murphy, I don't want to feel like I'm nothing to you when it comes to our doing it together. I've got a little pride left, Murphy, not much but a little. I just can't see us together anymore, Murph, and you have no idea how it kills me to say so."
She looked at me wistfully. "Jack, I need you. I really, really need you. I can teach you how to do things—you know," she said. I slowly shook my head from side to side. "If I'm that lacking, then I'm not for you Murphy. We best be getting to the divorce, and stop fooling around. I need to be free, and I expect so do you. You can show yourself out," I said.
She turned to go. I wouldn't be seeing Murphy again for a long time.
"You say she just waltzed in and told you she was done with her boyfriend," said Annette. I was just finishing up the last bite of my orange roughy; it was very good.
"That about covers it, yes," I said.
"Why didn't you give her a chance? Sounds like she meant it, I mean the way you tell it," said Annette.
"I think she did mean it. I just don't think she would be able to keep her word. She wants or needs someone who's a better cocksman than I am, or so she's said at any rate," I said. Annette nodded.
The divorce was final this week. It was seven months to the day since I'd filed. Murphy didn't contest the divorce per se, but as we were leaving the courthouse, she caught up to me.
"Jack, this was a mistake. We should be together. I know that woman over there is your new squeeze, but she isn't me nor anything like me. She'll dump on you one day, Jack, and when she does, I'll be there to help you put humpty back together again," she said.
"Murphy, sour grapes do not become you..."
"No, Jack, I've asked around. You should too. But, I wish you well, though, whatever happens," she said.
"Murphy, Annette's a good woman. I'm not sure where we are going with our relationship, but you need to not concern yourself about us. You should just forget about me and get on with your life," I said.
"Okay, Jack, just remember what I said." And then, she who had been the love of my life, was gone.
"What did she want," said Annette, coming up to me as Murphy turned to leave the courthouse.
"Nothing. She just wished me well is all," I said.
"Anyway," said Annette, as she locked my arm with hers, "Nicolas is back in town. You know of course he loved the car. He said it has become something of a girl magnet since he'd gotten to college. He is meeting with us tomorrow. He wants to show us his car's new sound system." I nodded. I'd discovered that she was always excited about whatever her son did or had.
We were at the neighborhood park near my place. It was a nice day. Annette was setting up the picnic on the nearby table while her son and I meandered among the nearby trees.
We'd been talking awhile about his first stint at the college and other things. He brought up the subject of his car again, "Yeah it's really a girl getter," said Nicolas. "Mom had good taste this time around." I looked at him, not sure what he referring to by his "mom's taste." I decided it had to be the car's custom paint job.
"Well, I'm glad it is working out for you," I said. "Sounds like you have it together, I mean college the social scene, all of it."
"Yeah, for real," he said. "Mr. McBride?"
"Yes?" I said.
"Oh nothing," he said. He was off and heading back to his car before I could pin him about his almost question. I knew he had a hot date from things he'd said earlier. It was clear he wanted to tell me something or ask me something but had thought better of it. Well, if it were important, he'd get around to it in time, I figured.
"Honey," Annette called to me from her work station at the picnic table.
I had not been joshing Annette when I'd told her I had never gotten over her. I hadn't, and it was only a slight exaggeration to say that I had thought of her every day since we'd parted so many years ago. She didn't quite believe me of course, but it was clear that she was basking in the thought that it might be true. It was some months after my divorce was final that I took the plunge.
"Yes, Jack, I'll marry you. If you're sure," she said. "Jack you know I like variety. I hope..."
"Annette, I have never been surer of anything in my life," I said, interrupting her; she sighed. We were married six weeks later. Her folks, same as mine, and Murphy's too, were on the other coast, but they came out for the wedding. It was a modest affair, small church, maybe thirty people, including my folks and hers. I actually remembered her dad and mom. He'd been a postman back in the day, and his mom a pretty French woman that he'd met on a military tour in Germany.
Mister Lessing had been doing some R&R in Paris and he'd come on to Jean Laboret in a night club where she worked as a jazz singer. She'd evidently been a private entertainer of the troops as well. This I'd gathered from snippets of conversation over the days immediately prior to the wedding. I didn't ask what was meant by it, the term "private entertainer," but I had a pretty good idea. At any rate, she was a nice and quite beautiful woman still, likewise possessed of a beautiful voice, all of which equaled a beautiful child, Annette; and now that child was mine.
Married life, and especially our sex life was good. For months it was good. It inevitably slowed down some, but now four years later it was still better than average, at least I thought so. This last even though I had of late gotten the feeling that something wasn't quite as it should be. Nothing substantial, just an uneasy feeling, nothing more; and no reason to have such a feeling; but I had it. That is until now. Now, it looked that there was more to my feeling than just a feeling.
My life, until my marriage to Annette, had almost seemed to be an unending series of emotional disasters; she'd changed that for me. Now, as I sat there looking at my worker, I had the sinking feeling that there was going to be a "déjà vu all over again."
"Fred, you have to be mistaken," I said.
"Boss, I saw them. They were making out, in the bar; and they left together," he said.
"Making out, you say. And they left together," I said.
"Yes, boss, but they didn't go far," he said.
"Huh? Whaddya mean," I said.
"I followed them out, taking care that they didn't notice me," he said. "They went across the street to the motel. Boss, they got a room together. They're there now." I was sick to my stomach.
"Fuck-fuck-fuck!" I said. Fred moved his chair a little bit back. I guess I was acting scary.
What to do, what to do! Hell, I didn't know. I didn't want a divorce, not from Annette, the girl I'd adored since the tenth grade. But, my wants and wishes notwithstanding, it looked like that was where she and I were headed.
"Fred, do me a favor. It's a big favor," I said.
"Sure, boss, anything," he said.
"If you will, please go across the street, to the motel. Find the bitch and tell her that I take a dim view of her being there and to be home in fifteen minutes or not at all," I said. "Okay?"
Fred smiled the smile of a cat about to pounce. "Not a problem boss," he said. I stood, shook his hand and headed on home.
She didn't make it in fifteen minutes, but she did make it in seventeen. I decided to be generous. "She stormed into the living room and began raving. I guess she'd read Von Clausewitz: "when beset on all sides, go on the offensive"—or maybe that was Vince Lombardi.
"You bastard! You just had to humiliate me didn't you!" she said. "They fought and now Fred is in the hospital. Good work mister!" My face clouded.
"Which hospital?" I said, I was really concerned now. Not about Annette, obviously, but about my bud, Fred.
"How the hell should I know. The EMT guys took him there. I had orders to make it home in fifteen minutes!" she said, dripping from her tongue.
"You failed," I said. "You were two minutes late." I was out the door and on my phone in a hurry. Why the fuck had I involved Fred. I knew the reason. She was right; I'd wanted to humiliate her.
"The cops checked for me, he was at Heinz Memorial. I headed there.
As I was going in, Fred's wife came crashing into me on her way to the nursing station, my own destination.
"Mister McBride? Sorry. Fred's been..." she started.
"Yes, Nelly, I know. I heard all about it. I hadn't, but I did know the basics. Let's see if we can get in to see him."
We did try. She succeeded, I did not. She came out five minutes later. She looked to be in shock.
"Mister McBride?" She slumped into a chair. I went to her. "He says he was doing a favor for you?"
"He was. It was a personal problem, and Fred was willing to help out. It was stupid of me, but I had no idea any kind of fight was going to come off," I said.
"It wasn't a fight. He said the guy hit him with the butt of a pistol. He said your wife..." she said.
"Yes, I asked him to confront her and tell her to get home or else. I never thought that the bad guy was going to do anything like that," I said. "I'll make it right by Fred."
She cried for some minutes. I asked her if she'd eaten. She hadn't. I took her to supper across the street to Denny's, and then back to the hospital. We both settled in for the long haul.
It turned out that the bad guy was some out of towner. He'd cut country as soon as he'd flattened Fred. The police would be hunting for him, but the odds of finding him were low; I knew it and Nelly knew it.
Fred was out of the woods by noon the next day. I thanked whatever deity cared and headed home after giving Nelly a ride to her place to get a change of clothes and maybe a little shuteye.
"You found him, I guess," said Annette, as I plopped down on the couch in our living room. It was near 1:00PM. I eyed her.
"Your lover did a number on him, but he'll survive," I said.
"Well—I'm glad for that," she said. "But he shouldn't have called Harry an asshole. It set him off, and Harry is a big guy.
"So where does that leave us, Jack?" she said.
"Care to tell me the why and the what?" I said.
"You know the what. As for the why? No good excuse. It just seemed like a harmless fun thing. An opportunity for some strange. I don't do it often anymore, but last night..."
"What the fuck!" I said. "You don't do it often! Anymore!"
"Oh come on, Jack, You knew. I know you knew," she said. "I told you before we even got married that I needed variety." I was actually snorting and grinding my teeth. My breath was coming in staccato bursts.
"Fuckin-A, bitch. Tell you what. Get the fuck out of here. You've got ten minutes to get any clothes you want and go, or else," I said. I headed into the kitchen. I was on a mission, and it was ninety proof.
I was sitting there drinking, not noticing the time. About an hour later, I got up and headed up to the bedroom. She was coming down the hall with a smirk on her face.
"What are you still doing here?" I said.
"I'm not going anywhere, Jack. You need to get a grip. I love you, Jack, but I also love variety, like I said. I really did think you knew about—well—about things. I guess I was mistaken about that. But, I was never, ever in your face about it, or did it with anyone you knew. It was always just random pickups. Harry was a guy I'd seen around and talked to a couple of times; out of the blue we just decided to make an evening of it. Just a couple of hours for fun. Me foolin' a little never hurt a thing, Jack, most especially not you. Like I said, I did it for variety," she said.