Chapter 1

Kevin was sitting in one of the padded lounge chairs on the balcony of the condo that he and Jessica owned on the sixth floor of the building, overlooking the Marina.

He looked down at the masts of the sailboats at the dock, sails secured, row upon row. The large power yachts of Los Angeles's wealthy, tied up at berths they rarely left. Gulls engaged in their usual raucous fighting, flying, walking, in the eternal quest for a quick, free, meal.

The brown pelicans were sitting in small groups on the tops of buildings and boats, watching hungrily for the fish inexperienced enough to enter the shallow waters of the marina.

There were always a few boats entering or leaving the marina, under power inside the breakwater, watched by the vigilant eyes of the Harbor Patrol.

The sea breeze lifted a salty tang to Kevin's nostrils.

He recalled not an hour before, overhearing one of his erstwhile guests making the comment, "It's a tragedy. He's is too young to have to deal with this kind of grief!"

He took a sip from the Corona that he'd opened after the last visitor had left, when he was finally alone.

"Damn straight," he thought silently agreeing with the remark, crying inside his mind.

The reality of the thing was that Kevin wasn't sure if he had even reached the 'grief' stage yet. He was still in shock, and more numb than anything. How else could he possibly be?

It wasn't four hours ago that they had put his wife, inside that damn box, into the crypt. For god's sake, he and Jessica were just thirty-years-old; they had only been married four years. They weren't some older couple with a history of heart disease or cancer, or even just old age.

He and Jessica were young and vibrant — he an up-and-coming lawyer with one of the name firms in downtown L.A.; Jessica, an engineer with one of the few remaining aerospace companies in the South Bay. Their future was ahead of them.

She was an aero major from MIT — a rocket scientist, a female rocket scientist, one of the few, with high visibility in the company. She was already a second-level manager, expecting to be elevated to Director level within a year or two. If she stuck to her trajectory, she would be a Vice-President, maybe even President of the Division.

Some people didn't think that sounded like much, but considered in isolation, her division of the larger conglomerate was a multi-billion dollar revenue company. By itself it would be in the Fortune 500. As some sage once observed — space junk doesn't come cheap.

Kevin was a business lawyer, one of those combo-degree guys, with an MBA from Wharton and his J.D. from Michigan. Dynamite. And he was paid accordingly. That's how he and Jessica could afford to own one of these fucking-dollar condo's in Marina del Rey.

"But now," he thought, "what's it all for?" Confronted with her mortality, he understood his own just a little better. What is life worth without your soul mate? She was Helen to his Paris; Cleopatra to his Anthony. Yet, in the twinkling of an eye she was gone.

Worse, how she died seemed so trivial.

According to the people who were there — she worked in a classified facility, so Kevin had never actually seen her office — she was in the break-room, getting something from one of the lower shelves, and somehow (no one was admitting to culpability) a cabinet door above was left open.

As she stood up, she cracked her head into the corner of the door. Hard, but no significant harm done. A little bleeding, a bump, but not enough, she felt, to warrant even going to the on-site nurse. She had a minor headache, but stuck it through the rest of the day. The headache was bad enough that she decided to go home on time for a change, to lie down.

No big surprise, Kevin, one of the young Turks in the firm, was working with his team reviewing the minutia of the contract on a large land deal for one of the big national home builders. Not a jot or tittle would escape their vigilance.

He left a message on the machine, not to hold dinner, he would be late. No problem for either one of them, they both understood that if they broke their balls now (even though, Jessica joked, her 'balls' were virtual), the rewards would come, and they could taper off within a couple of years.

So, for once Jessica made it home by about 5:30. She poured herself a glass of wine from an already open bottle of a '05 Merlot in the 'fridge, turned on some music, and sat down in her recliner. They knew they shouldn't keep the Merlot cold, like a white wine, — it was just habit. She took a couple of sips from the glass, and then leaned back in the chair and closed her eyes.

That was how Kevin found her at 8:00 when he finally arrived home. Actually 8:00 wasn't late for him — it was pretty early, considering the normal state of traffic on the I-10 West at that time of the evening. Thank goodness, the CHP had already gotten the accident at La Brea cleared up before he got there.

He unlocked the door and walked in, and hearing the music was a little surprised that Jess was still in the living room, and there was no smell of food. Normally, if she arrived home earlier than he, she would have fixed something to eat and there would be dinner waiting for him to reheat. But as he passed the kitchen, there was no sign of any cooking or food prep.

"Maybe she's fallen asleep in the recliner," Kevin thought to himself, smiling. It had happened before. He was going to sneak up and give her a quick kiss to wake her. Then he would volunteer to make a quick dinner, or take her out someplace local.

He quietly walked up behind the recliner, taking advantage of the music to cover the noise, and reached over and kissed Jess on the forehead where she reclined in the chair. It took a second before he understood that there was something wrong. She didn't respond; her eyes didn't open, she didn't say anything. Shit. He touched her face, and it seemed damn cool. She wasn't breathing. He couldn't find a pulse.

He called 911. He pulled her to the floor and as she lay there on the carpet, tried to apply CPR, something everyone at the law firm had been forced to train in. He tried mouth-to-mouth, hoping to breathe new life back into her. Truthfully though, Kevin knew, even before the EMT's reached the condo, that Jess was dead. Had been for awhile.

It seemed so stupid.

The EMT's looked at her, and tried to find vital signs. To their experienced eyes, in the grim humor of their profession, it was clear she wasn't going out dancing tonight. She'd been dead for some time, probably shortly after she arrived home. They speculated between 5:30 and 6:30 o'clock as the estimated time-of-death. The coroner would eventually agree with them.

Way too long to expect to resuscitate. All they could do now was haul her down to the hospital where the arbiters of death would declare the reason, the rhyme, the season, the time.

It didn't take long for the wheels of modern medicine to grind Jessica through their mill. Beneath the florescent lights in the hospital corridor, smelling of vile antiseptic cleaning fluids, Kevin sat while words and phrases were thrown around; 'sub-dural hematoma', 'intracranial bleeding'.

They gave the usual reassurances: "She most likely just fell asleep and never woke up again." "Maybe a headache." "Do you remember the actress who bumped her head on the bunny slope, and died?" Perhaps such things were comforting, knowing she didn't suffer long, but they didn't mitigate Kevin's sorrow thinking of his future with his empty condo and empty heart.

Her fellow workers came forward to tell their story from inside the 'island of secrecy', as Jessica would call her workplace.

The LAPD detectives decided that there was nothing to investigate, after getting the report of her accident at work, and the death certificate listing a cause — plus checking with a legal secretary who confirmed that Kevin had been at work until close to 7:00. Nada, zero, nothing to cause them to suspect foul play.

Good for husband Kevin, who, if there was a whiff of suspicion, would have become suspect number one. In shock, he never noticed the look on the faces of the still not-entirely convinced cops, hoping as late as the funeral, that he might break down and spew a confession to the gathered crowd. Instead he was, they agreed, just boring. They couldn't quite hide their disappointment.

The lawyers who represented the large aerospace conglomerate were prepared to haggle and delay, and all of the normal tactics that they would use to avoid paying. Or to make the opposing party wait so long that, assuming they were still alive by then, they would accept a reduced settlement.

That lasted until it was brought to their attention that this particular grieving spouse had the resources and the connections within his own firm to create a legal nightmare for the company. Consequently, their offer to prevent a wrongful death suit from being filed was generously larger than the normal jury awards for similar accidental deaths. Kevin, not in any state to fight about money, took his lawyer's advice and accepted the deal. In addition to the life insurance policy the firm provided for employees at her level, he was getting enough money that most mere mortals would consider retiring.

Fortunately for him, his brother, Jim, and his sister-in-law lived up in Santa Clarita — only about 35 miles north of the Marina (although, driving south down the Antelope Valley Freeway to the 405 as far as the 90, the Marina Freeway, was never a picnic). His sister-in-law, Tess, came down and took over organizing the funeral, taking him through the necessary steps for having his beloved interred. She had done the same thing for her dad two years before when her mother had passed on.

Even Tess found the price of a double-crypt in the West Side cemetery to be outrageous.

Kevin didn't care. He had plenty of money, and it was one of the few things he remembered his wife ever saying about death and dying: "I don't want to be cremated, and I don't want to put into the ground." That only left one option.

There you have it — seven days after her death, his Jessica was sealed up in a wall, waiting for the time when Kevin would join her.

After the funeral, everyone had come back to Kevin and Jessica's condo purportedly to console the grieving husband, but also, of course, to deal with their own shock at the death of a young and beautiful woman. Tess had caterers put together a small spread for the friends, relatives, as well as the flotsam and jetsam — representatives from her company and his law firm.

After about an hour Tess, thoughtful of Kevin's needs, quietly but efficiently started convincing mourners to leave. Another hour later, having cleaned up the mess, and placing the left-overs in the refrigerator (insuring that Kevin would have something available to eat over the next few days), she and her husband left as well.

"You're sure you don't want someone here with you?" she asked, one more time just to affirm Kevin's desire to be by himself.

"Thanks, but yes, I really need some 'alone time'. Tess, thank you so much. I wouldn't have made it through the week without your help, your kindness and your sympathy," Kevin told her; it was the gods-honest truth.

He shook his brother's hand, and as Jim walked down the hall towards the elevator, Tess hung back long enough to give Kevin one last hug, kiss, and a long look at his face, before she too turned and left to join her husband.

Savoring the first real quiet that he'd had in a week, he went into the kitchen, fetched himself a Corona, and went out onto the balcony.

Sitting there along, looking out over the harbor, Kevin knew there was only one person he really wanted to see. That special friend who he could share his feelings — in a 'spilling his guts out' and getting disgustingly drunk sort of way. His friend, Steve. Steve would hear him out, and get drunk with him, and Kevin knew it would be a catharsis for his soul that no one else could provide.

He had known Steve from the time they were in Junior High, down in the O.C., in Costa Mesa, where their families had lived at the time. When Kevin went back east to start his undergrad studies, Steve stayed in California, matriculating, as they say, at USC, where he was deeply involved in the campus 'Greek' life. At 'SC, you could just look at the frat guys and tell which house they were with. Steve, with his golden boy good looks, and his 6' 4" athletic body was no exception.

Not an exceptional student like Kevin, Steve did graduate with a decent, but not jealousy provoking, GPA from the business school. Shamelessly using his frat connections, he was hired into a commercial real estate firm, where his social skills and network — honed to a keen edge at 'SC — served him well.

Financially, Steve was doing well, and was living the life of the moneyed single out of a condo in Manhattan Beach, where the night life was hot, and the ladies available. Surrounded by college chums and frat brothers, it was if he still had one foot in the university, and one foot in the real world.

But through the years, Kevin and Steve stayed in touch, and when Kevin (by then married to Jessica) arrived back in the City of The Fallen Angels, Steve was there to welcome them at LAX.

They would hang out together when they could, sometimes meeting for dinner and drinks, other times going to one another's place to watch a game. Of course, the three of them were all working, all busy, and didn't get together as often as they might like to. In fact, as Kevin recalled, they hadn't seen much of Steve for the past year or so.

When Jessica had her accident, Steve was nowhere to be found, and it wasn't until the day before the funeral that it was discovered that he was on vacation up in some remote cabin that didn't have 'net, or even cell coverage. We're talking isolated. They finally got hold of the manager of the large ranch, who promised to give Steve the message the next morning, when he went out to the cabin.

So Steve had missed everything. And Kevin sorely missed his calming presence.

When Kevin finished his cerveza, he went back into the condo, considering whether to get another or not. "Not," he decided.

Instead, he wandered aimlessly for awhile. Into the kitchen, looking around the room, seeing the signs of her presence everywhere. A NASA calendar they handed out to her at work hanging on the wall. The funny porcelain figures of French Chefs that Jessica placed in the little niches around the room. The expensive set of cookware that she bought as a joke for Kevin for his birthday, after he'd gotten her an ironing board as a prank on hers. As a joke the cookware backfired, because both Kevin and Jess loved to cook with those pans. Now they were his alone.

He gradually made his way into the bedroom, looking at their king-sized bed. He knew intellectually that he and she would never be together there again, but the emotional impact of that hadn't hit him yet. He noticed that Tess had packed a lot of Jesse's clothes into storage boxes, but there were still some left in the closet.

He had kept the t-shirt that Jess had taken from him and used at night in lieu of a nightgown, hanging on its peg on the back of the bathroom door. He couldn't confess to anyone his compulsion to hold it, and smell Jess on the shirt. It was something he could have told Steve, but no one else.

On the bedside table on Jessica's side was a wedding photo of the two of them. The time machine seized Kevin and threw him back four years — standing there at the alter, waiting for his Jessica, with her shoulder-length light-honey-colored hair, and her blue-gray eyes, to walk down the aisle. The smile that lit the room when she walked in.

In her high heels, Jessica was almost as tall as Kevin, not that Kevin, at almost six-feet tall, was short. He remembered thinking that Jessica, in her wedding gown, really had the proverbial 'hour-glass' shape. He stood there for a moment lost in the photo; frozen, a lost soul.

Some time passed and Kevin returned to the kitchen, and feeling a pang in his stomach, ate a meal that was tasteless and habitual. It did, he realized after he finished, make him feel a little better.

He finally got up the courage to confront what he had studiously avoided for the past week, and went into Jessica's office.

The condo was a three bedroom affair, with a large master, and two smaller bedrooms. Not having any children, indeed not even sure yet whether they wanted children, Kevin took one of the smaller bedrooms as his office, and Jessica took the other for hers.

Her office was her haven, her refuge, the room in the house that was entirely devoted to her needs. Kevin was practically shaking when he slowly crept in, afraid at what memories might linger in her sanctum sanctorum.

Even as he took the first step, he understood the emotional danger that he faced. There was the subtle odor of the citrus oil, always one of her favorites, rising from a glass bottle on a shelf, up through thin wooden dowels that acted like wicks to disburse the scent into the air.

Jessica had changed the floor of her office, having the original carpet removed and replaced with a Brazilian-cherry hardwood floor, full of reddish color tones, over which in the middle of the room, she covered up a substantial amount of the area with an oriental carpet. The carpet wasn't a true 'hand knotted' rug, as a 6' by 8' hand knotted rug would have been outrageously expensive, but it was a high quality wool and silk carpet, even if it was factory made.

Kevin walked past the bookshelves, his fingers lightly touching the wooden shelves as he passed. Jesse's books? Honestly, there was nothing there to be sentimental about. Mathematics, scientific reference books, engineering texts — completely useless to Kevin and hardly a meaningful connection to Jessica. A few paperback romance novels, for the few occasions when she had time to sit and just read for pleasure and 'veg out', as she laughingly described it.

Those remaining on the shelves looked brand new and unread, which made sense, because once Jess had read once of her 'trashy' novels, she would dump it into the box in the Rec room on the first floor of the condo building, where anyone could come by and take books to read for free. Jess had availed herself of books from the 'box' several times.

"Oh god," thought Kevin, when he reached the shelves where her personal CD's were stored. Kevin laughed a little looking at her collection of CDs. OK, music was not one of his and Jesse's areas of mutual taste. But at least her music was a reminder of her and the good times they had shared.

Kevin looked at some of the nick-knacks on the small corner table, most of which were from the time before they were married. Those he would either keep, or check with Jesse's mother to see if she would like to have them as mementos of her daughter. There were more photos in ornate frames, silver and wood, of Jess with her parents, or with Kevin. Their wedding, their honeymoon in Paris, a trip to Mexico; familiar scenes with joyous memories to be kept, savored and treasured.

Only halfway through the room and Kevin was drained and exhausted by the ghosts that haunted him here. He gave up, and almost feeling led, sat at her desk, in her chair.

This was her special chair, the one they had to buy after she had been through an 'ergonomic' training session for the managers in her company. Too many 'worker's comp' claims were being filed by employees who found themselves with sore arms, backs, whatever. Her concerns followed her home, and $900 later, she had her 15-axis adjustable chair. Not really '15-axis' — that was just how Kevin sarcastically described it to friends when he was implying that she overly-pampered herself.

Directly in front of her chair, on her desk, was her laptop. He pressed the power button and waited for it to boot up, mindlessly watching the screen. He had no specific reason for using her computer, other than the urge to see its light again on her desk, as he used to when he would pass by her open office door in the evenings.

The screen came up demanding a password. That was a response to the concern that Jess had about computer security pounded into her psyche at work. There was no real work related reason for protecting her computer — her work was 'Secret', and she wasn't allowed to copy any of it or take it out of the building in any form: paper, disk, flash drive. The only work related materials she kept on her computer were a few phone lists of people, in case she had to call them from home, and a few memos and letters of an administrative nature that she drafted at home and emailed to herself at the office.

It didn't matter anyway, because Kevin knew the password. Jess told him, in case he ever needed to get into the computer for any reason. In the two years that she'd had the laptop, he'd never accessed it. Tonight was the first time. He logged in.

He'd never especially paid attention to Jesse's laptop before. Their work schedule was such that often one of the other of them seemed to be working late at home. They were both computer users, although Jess was, as a consequence of her engineering degree, more computer literate than he. She could program, if necessary in Java, Fortran (yes, for you unbelievers, there is still a lot of old Fortran code out there in the engineering world), and a number of other 'scripting' languages — whatever that meant.

But at home, she was like the rest of us, cruising the web, getting and replying to emails, and doing any number of repetitive chores that the computer does so well.

And that's what Kevin found when he fired up her laptop.

First there were a lot of apps. There were also folders of photos that he could identify by their labels: Paris, Mexico Vacation, Family, and Christmas. He would certainly have to download those and make sure they were safely stored. The last thing Kevin wanted was to lose were the photos that would keep the memory of his beloved wife alive.

Videos, again all clearly labeled by date and activity. Music that Jess had either ripped from their CD's, or downloaded to listen to. Her contact lists, the Christmas mailing lists (that somehow, he recalled could be directly printed out onto labels), Excel spreadsheets. It was so normal and mundane.

He did all of the family financial record keeping on his computer, so there wasn't anything to worry about as far as paying bills, or other money issues.

Then there was the folder labeled 'Jessica Documents'.

He opened that, and no surprise, it was as organized as the rest of the computer, into subfolders by subject. So there was a folder labeled 'Mom', and another 'Sis', and even a folder for her sister-in-law, 'Tess'. There were folders for communications with several of the professional groups to which she belonged, both engineering related, and those dedicated to woman's professional groups.

Kevin wondered for a moment if he should find someone who he could inform of Jessica's passing in those groups. That could wait a few days, he was sure.

There were other folders dedicated to various friends, her college sorority, even one for the travel agent who they had used on a couple of their trips. All the usual boring debris of modern day communications.

He was about to close the folder and go on when Kevin noticed an anomaly in Jesse's world of clarity. There was a folder labeled 'OM', and nothing else.

"That's weird," the thought came to Kevin when he saw it, "Wonder what it is?" Kevin was sure that as soon as he looked at one of the email contents, the acronym would reveal itself. God only knows, the aerospace world that Jess worked in simply loves its acronyms.

Kevin tried to open the file, but instead of opening, it asked for a password. "Even stranger," was Kevin's immediate response. He wondered if this file had gotten locked up accidentally, so he right-button clicked on it and looked at the file properties. He was no expert, but it looked like it was password protected, and had been set up almost a year ago. Kevin sat there feeling stymied. Could he hack his way into the folder?

Kevin just mulled over the problem for a time, knowing that if he wasn't so exhausted there was probably an answer staring him in the face, if he could just think. He would have looked for slips of paper on the desk, but Jess, who hated clutter, didn't have any on her desk. He tried to remember, because there was a memory on the edge of his consciousness that was nagging at him.

"Damn!" he exclaimed out loud when he finally seized the memory.

Jess had complained to him often about all of the on-line sites — shopping, news, almost anything these days — were demanding that to use the site you had to set up a password protected account. 'I don't mind memorizing my banking information. But how can I remember all of these other passwords?' she muttered at the time. When he asked her about it later, she told him that she had them listed at the back of her day-timer, sitting there on her desk. And there it still was, sitting not a foot from Kevin's hand.

He picked up the day-timer, and sure enough, there on the back page was a list of passwords. Yahoo, her Hotmail account, passwords for her Land's End, Williams-Sonoma, and a half-dozen other shopping sites. But nothing for the protected file.

Frustrated, Kevin was ready to throw the day-timer across the room, when he noticed something. Jess had a kind of algorithm she was using for her passwords.

When he looked at it, he recognized the first four digits were the day and month that he had proposed to her, 1205, for the twelfth of May. Jess insisted that they celebrate the date every year; although he couldn't understand why. If it made her happy, he was happy.

Then there were two letters, an acronym that he and Jess had used in their private emails: HJ, standing for 'Hot Jess'. The code ended with two letters that came from the name of the site: LE, for 'Land's End', "HM' for "Hotmail', and so on. Kevin wondered.

He went back onto the laptop, and tried to open the folder again. This time when it asked for the password, he typed in, '1205HJOM', and it opened.

Later, reflecting on the chain of events that followed, he would wonder if it might not have been better if he'd never cracked her code, leaving her memory untarnished, and not opening a wound directly into his heart.

Inside the folder were emails between his wife, Jessica, and his supposed 'best friend', Steve. He selected a couple of the emails at random to look at, and in the twinkling of an eye, Kevin felt the grief in his breast being replaced with rage.

"Fuck," he said out loud, as the light went on in his fevered brain. " 'OM' — Other Man!"

Kevin stood up suddenly from the desk, and went over to the printer and turned the power on. Returning, he set up the emails to print. Close to two hundred email exchanges were in the file, amounting to a betrayal beyond Kevin's comprehension.

Since many of the emails were limited to times and places of assignations, they were only a line or two long. Others were longer, and the most recent, some of them a page or more in length. Kevin turned on the printer.

As soon as they were all printed out, Kevin took the stack into the living room, sat in his reading chair, turned on the light and began to examine them in his best critical lawyer manner. He started with the earliest communications and reading in order of date, up to the present.

The emails exposed in stark black and white, that Jess and Steve had been carrying on an emotional affair for roughly the past year. The actual physically intimate affair was for nine months, or so.

For the first couple of months, Jess and Steve were just meeting for a lunch here and there, nothing that couldn't be called 'friendly', except that they were doing it on the sly, concealing it from Kevin, so they wouldn't make waves and upset boats.

What pissed Kevin off, even in the emails from this pre-sexual period of the dance, was the way that the two closer-than-friends were so gleeful at their ability to be together behind Kevin's back. Jessica's job existed in a secret world, where Kevin often couldn't reach her. Steve's position allowed him the freedom to wander far and wide in L. A. County. The lovers had plenty of opportunities to meet and share their secret sins.

If the emails were to be taken at face value, it took Steve several months before Jess succumbed to his tall good looks and sleazy charm. Then for awhile, it was furtive meetings at his condo for 'nooners', and quickies in cars, hidden in isolated parking structures. Then, they kicked it up a notch, and Kevin understood in a brilliant flash of insight that the late evenings and overtime at work for the past four or five months, were a 'special project' (as Jess described it) alright — special for Steve, and playing Kevin for the fool.

The last month, there was a change in the atmosphere and tone of the communiqués, as the intensity and desires of this sordid duet increased at an upward pace, like the national debt, suddenly going for broke. Torrid, wild, unrestrained sex. Reading between the lines, when he read Jesse's most recent emails, there was a kind of pleading tone. It sounded to Kevin as if his wife, Jess, was getting ready to leave him for Steve. That she wanted to leave him for Steve.

Kevin quickly perused the last email communication between the lovers (oh, how ugly to contemplate) and saw that it was dated just days before his now deceased wife's accident. It explained one thing, at least. Steve told Jess that he was going on a business trip that he would be combining with a fishing vacation. The ranch where he was staying was very isolated. Don't expect to hear from him until he gets back in town. Then they could come to some hard decisions to determine where their future together would lead them.

Well, at least the part about Steve being isolated from civilization was true.

Kevin put the pages down on the small table next to his chair and collapsed into a flaccid lump.

"Unbelievable!" he thought, and after a minute it struck him, "Well, the bitch is already dead; not much more I can do to her now. Too bad.

"But that shit, Steve. I thought he was a friend. No wonder I haven't seen that SOB for almost a year — he was afraid to look me in the face, man-to-man. How low can you go, stealing your best friend's woman?" The answer to his rhetorical question was easy: if you were a completely amoral prick, who thought of nothing beyond your next piece of ass, you could go pretty damn low.

The light of the afternoon sun dimmed as Apollo drove his chariot westward, across Santa Monica Bay, while Kevin sat, staring into space.

It was dark before Kevin finally got up and walked to the kitchen. He grabbed a bottle out of the 'fridge and poured himself the last glass of Merlot; the same Merlot that had been the final taste to touch his bitch wife's lips. He almost laughed at the thought.

He raised the glass.

"Here's to the wine that escorted my unfaithful harlot into the afterlife. May she'll drown and die again in the river Styx; her ass kicked out of the boat by Charon, unworthy even to enter Hades."

Not long after the wine glass was drained, Kevin knew he was too. Drained and wrung like a damp rag, and hung out to dry.

He took a pill and went to bed. If he dreamed, he didn't remember anything except his vague sense of uneasiness by the morning.

The mindless alarm went off, thankfully at 8 AM instead of the usual 5:30. The traffic report that came on wasn't going to do Kevin any good today. He wasn't going to work. Well, maybe he wasn't going to work. He had to consider his now changed circumstances. There was a lot to think about now in the full light of the day after.

Habit kicks in, and Kevin found a certain comfort in making his coffee, and eating a fried-egg and English muffin for breakfast. Kevin's life might have been turned upside down in the past week, but ritual helped him focus.

A night's sleep had refreshed him physically, but he was still in mental turmoil.

What should he do about Steve?

It was a paradox, a conundrum.

If Jessica was still alive, there would be no question. He would kick the bitch to the curb, and Steve would become his best-old-ex-friend. Just like the Jim Croce song.

How well that whole scheme would have worked was somewhat dubious to Kevin's lawyerly logic. If the Jessica/Steve relationship was as intense and close as the emails indicated, Jessica was already half-way out the door, and Steve's condo would have two permanent residents instead of one. That wasn't exactly getting revenge on the pair. It was probably doing just what they wanted. And if Kevin was a real ass, it could even mitigate any feelings of guilt that might or might not have lingered in what remained of their collective consciences.

And it was a moot point. That certainly wasn't going to happen now. Oh happy day.

So the question, Kevin considered, "Should I make a permanent break with my oldest friend, because he had an affair with my now deceased wife? Or, should I not let him know that I discovered his betrayal, and let it go? Hell, it takes two to tango. Jessica was just as culpable in this affair as Steve, so should I hold him wholly responsible because she's not around to accept her share of the blame?"

"After all," Kevin though, "I've hardly seen him for the past year. If I don't reveal what I know now, who knows how I'll feel about him a year from now. Maybe I'll be able to forgive him. And if I don't — well, what have I lost? I dump him." He liked the imagery of the phrase.

That was Kevin's final decision, after throwing his options back and forth in his mind for an hour or so. He wouldn't brace Steve about the affair, but he would minimize his contact for awhile, and see how he felt after some time had passed. It wouldn't be hard for him to justify keeping a low profile — he was, after all, a man in mourning. And not likely but maybe after the initial anger settled down, he would find that he could still keep his old friend at some level. It would never be the same, but it wasn't like he was married to him.

It was later that afternoon when Kevin's reverie was interrupted by the doorbell.

He lifted himself out of his sofa, slowly, painfully, like an old man, not a thirty-year old. He'd been sitting there all morning, the television droning in front of eyes that didn't see. Kevin wondered what kind of insensitive lout was ignoring his peace and solitude.

He opened the door to find Steve — former best friend, and back-stabbing Benedict Arnold — standing in the hallway.

Before he could say anything, Steve had stepped forward and grabbed him, giving him the kind of hug that two old buddies could give each other. Even if one wasn't sure that they were 'old buddies' anymore.

"Oh god, Kevin," Steve blurted out, his demeanor serious, his face showing the grief for a friend, although, Kevin thought, not for the death of a true love.

"I got here as soon as I could." He walked in automatically, his arm around Kevin's shoulder, moving them both back into the living room, closing the door behind him.

"We just couldn't believe it when we heard about Jessica. I don't know what to say! It's horrible, like she's there one minute, and gone the next. I can't imagine the pain you're going through."

Kevin thought to himself, "You can say that again."

"There was a snow storm up in the mountains a couple of nights ago," Steve continued, completely oblivious to his friend's negative aura, "so I couldn't even drive myself out. We had to wait until the ranch manager was able to get up to the cabin in his four-by. Then I got to the airport, but there are so few flights out of there that I couldn't get a seat on the regular puddle jumper. I had to charter a private plane to take me to Denver."

"Really?" Kevin replied rather flatly, "You went to a lot of effort." Steve didn't notice the sarcastic undertone to Kevin's remark.

Steve waved his hand in the air, as if to dismiss Kevin's remark.

"Kevin, you are my oldest, closest and best friend, I couldn't leave you here alone dealing with this tragedy. And there was only seven or so inches of snow. It's probably already melted by now."

With that Steve walked out into the kitchen, and in a couple of minutes, brought back two glasses of red wine, handing one to Kevin and keeping the other. That act reminded Kevin of just how close they had been. Steve knew where to find everything in the kitchen; he knew where the wine was kept, where the wine glasses were, he knew Kevin's preferences.

Kevin looked at the wine in the glass, and gave it a quick smell.

"The Cab?" he asked. Steve nodded his head in the affirmative, and lifted his glass, getting Kevin to touch the two glasses together.

They both took a sip of the wine, which was exceptional, even if it hadn't had a chance to breathe.

"I'm so sorry that I didn't get back in time for the funeral."

Kevin just nodded.

"You know I thought the world of her. She was a really great wife, and the two of you made the perfect couple."

"If only it were true," thought Kevin, wistfully.

Kevin had started to calm down. Clearly, Steve was not affected by Jessica's death to the depth that Kevin had expected. Maybe, despite Jessica's view of things, Steve really hadn't been as attached to her as she thought. Maybe the 'future' to which Steve alluded in the last email, was along the lines of, "We can't keep on betraying Kevin. Jessica, it's been fun, but now it's over. You go back and love Kevin, so that he never knows about us, and I'll go on, becoming his best friend once again."

"You there, bro?" intruded Steve's voice.

Kevin realized that he'd drifted again.

"Yeah. Sorry, it's just the memories..."

"Sure. Just staying here must ... wait a minute! You need to get out of here. Will your firm allow you to take a couple of weeks off? You know, for mourning?"

"Absolutely," Kevin replied, a little uncertain as to what was going on in his friends head.

Steve leaned forward in his chair, and looked directly at Kevin's eyes with an excited look.

"We gotta get you outta here. Come up with us to the cabin — it's huge. Take a couple of weeks to find your center again. The mountains are so peaceful, and the river is filled with trout. We have elk and deer walking by the lodge in the morning, right outside the window while we're eating breakfast. There's a herd of buffalo on the ranch. The place is too cool. Come on, think about it. Come and join us."

"Steve," Kevin finally asked, since he'd noticed something in his friend's speech, "Who is this 'us' you're talking about? You keep on talking as if you aren't alone at this mountain hideaway of yours?"

Steve looked up, his entire visage suddenly lighting up.

"Oh! I forgot. You don't know about my fiancée, Francesca. You and Jessica never met her. She's why I've been so occupied the past year. I can't wait to introduce you to her. I fell in love with her the first time I met her at a party last year, and I've been completely obsessed ever since..."

Steve continued to speak, but Kevin couldn't hear a word of it.

"You BASTARD!" Kevin screamed, grabbing the printouts of the emails from the table next to him, and throwing them at Steve.

(This is the point at which the original Schnitzler plot/story ends)

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Story tagged with:
Ma/Fa / Consensual / Heterosexual / Cheating / Slow /