I should have said no. It should have been easy to say no.
But I didn't...
A siren blares outside of the room I have rented for a week. The flashing red and blue lights penetrate through the barred window, briefly spreading a ghastly illumination on this tiny space as they speed away, answering a call for help.
I lay on the floor in my sleeping bag, a deep yearning clamping painfully around my heart as the siren slowly fades out. I need help, but there's no one for me to call. And who would respond? I have done this to myself.
There's a bed a few feet away, but I won't sleep in it. The thought of all the lost souls wasting their existence on that infested mattress saddens me. The prostitutes and their johns. The drunks pissing themselves. The addicts shooting their fix into their veins.
It's not any belief that I'm better than them that makes me choose to not sleep there. No; I belong here. I am just as lost as any alcoholic, junkie, or whore who has ever stared at these same four walls.
The reason I choose the floor is because I am alone.
I wasn't always like I am now. I once believed in the faithful heart. I believed that I was a good man, a good husband. I believed that I loved.
I believe none of those things now.
I have been married for 10 years to the most wonderful woman I have ever known. Our life together had been good. She didn't deserve what I did to her.
Up until three days ago I wouldn't have thought it possible that I could betray her. That I could make her sob. That I could push her down the slopes of hell. I never thought that I would do anything but spend my life with her, growing old and gray together, hand in hand.
Until I met Lorie.
My job is a sales rep, and I made an appointment with a local company to visit and tell them how what I had to sell would improve their business. My sales have been flagging since the economy went on a downward spiral, and I prepared my best pitch, hoping my luck would turn.
I was ushered into her office, and she greeted me with a smile. She was attractive, and I put her age in her early thirties. She was a cute blonde, with her hair cut stylishly short. She wore the typical uniform of professional women, but it fit her better than most.
There was no thunderbolt. I did not have my breath taken away. I meet many attractive women traveling around the country on sales calls, and Lorie was not the prettiest woman I had ever met on my rounds. My wife is certainly more physically appealing. For the first few minutes it was a typical sales call, and I began my pitch, doing my best to convince her that I was offering her company the best hope it had of staying ahead of the competition.
The first thing that really struck me about her was her voice. It wasn't unusually beautiful or sexy, but she had a way of speaking that was unique in my experience. As she began to break down my pitch with probing questions, her voice penetrated me until I was listening more to her inflections and intonations than her actual words.
I sat in that office for half an hour. Even after it became clear to me that I wasn't going to make a sale I continued my pitch, because I wanted to continue to hear her speak and the lilt in her voice when she laughed.
As my attention began to drift away from seeing her as a potential client I noticed other things about her, like the way she brushed her hair away from her ear with her hand and the faint crow's nests around her eyes when she smiled. I was growing more attracted to her by the minute, and I thought to myself that if I wasn't married I would like to get to know her better.
Eventually my pitch was over. I had no more arguments to make. At a break in the conversation I rose out of my chair and held out my hand, signaling an end to the meeting. She rose and accepted my hand, but instead of letting go immediately she held on to it for a couple of seconds and asked me if I had any additional performance charts that she could look at.
I did. My company is constantly making charts as a tool to sell our product. I always carried the ones I thought were most valuable with me on every call, but there were several I didn't have because I didn't find them very useful.
I didn't think they would be useful to her either. She was a smart businesswoman, and if I hadn't convinced her by now I knew a few more charts wouldn't make any difference.
I told her that I would e-mail them to her in the morning. She responded by saying that she had to catch a flight the next morning to a different branch, and that she would like to take a look at them before she left. She asked me how soon I could get them to her.
My office was a twenty minute round trip. She smiled at me when I gave her that information, and again I was taken with her action of brushing her hair off her ear. It was very late in the afternoon, and she said she was just about to close up, but then gave me the name of a nearby club and said if I would meet her there in a half-hour she would be happy to go over them with me.
I was more than a little shaken by her suggestion. This wasn't normal professional behavior. Sales are conducted by company visits and phone calls, with e-mails exchanged and meetings in conference rooms. There were after hours meetings at times with potential clients, but that only occurred when the deal was very near to being closed, and it was never handled one-on-one. I took her offer to mean only one thing: that she wanted to see me outside of a professional setting.
It was her smile. That and the way she brushed her hair away, and the way she held on to my hand as I was getting ready to leave. But most of all it was the way she spoke to me that made me say yes.
She flashed me another smile, and walked me to the front door. She asked if I knew the address of the club she had suggested. I did. I had been there a couple of times with my wife. It wasn't conducive to a business meeting, and that made me even more certain that she wasn't interested in business. Her business was personal. I knew that and still I had agreed to meet her there.
I drove to my office, wondering what in the world I was doing. There was no reason for me to be doing this. I wasn't going to make a sale. I had a wife. I had a good marriage. Every thought I had told me that this was a mistake. I told myself over and over to not go, to blow it off. Lorie would understand.
I got to my office on automatic. I went to my desk and stared at the folders that had the charts I was going to bring to her, thinking this was my last chance to back away. I could turn around now and it would simply be a momentary stumble, something that I would have to deal with, but no egregious harm had been done. If I picked up those folders, my doom was sealed.
I almost felt outside myself as my hand reached out to take them, like I was watching someone else do this horrible thing. I lowered my head in shame as I grasped them. I stood completely still for several seconds, holding an internal debate with myself. The side of me I wanted to win was losing.
I took a deep breath and let it out. I had made my decision. I picked up the folders and placed them in my briefcase.
I called my wife as I drove to the club. Never before in our time together had I dreaded hearing her voice, or what I was going to say to her. I told her that I had a sales meeting with a potential client and that I would be working late.
I had worked late before, so I expected that she would understand. Maybe it was my own guilt projected on her, but instead of understanding I thought I heard disappointment and a little suspicion as she said good-bye.
My heart sank as I hung up. Technically what I had told her had been true, but I knew it for the lie it was. I had already betrayed her.
Lorie was waiting for me when I arrived at the club. She was seated at a table with a drink in front of her, and I sat down across from her and began to open my briefcase to pull out the charts. She laid her hand on mine as I fumbled with the latch and told me it could wait, that I should order a drink and relax for a few minutes before we got down to business.
I shivered at the touch of her hand on mine, and set my briefcase off to the side. I motioned the waitress over and ordered a double Scotch. Lorie brushed her hair away from her ear and smiled as I turned back to her.
We spent a long time in conversation at that table, interrupted only by the arrival of the waitress as she brought our drinks. I was once again struck by her voice and mannerisms, and my guilt at being there with her slowly melted away.