Chapter 1: Setting the stage
It's strange how things come to light when we think we've hidden and forgotten them.
That was just a passing thought as I sat on my own in the bar of a hotel I hadn't been back to in over thirty years. I was having a beer while I waited for my wife to finish getting ready and join me for a meal. As I sat there at the back of the room, I looked at the other customers and was slightly startled to see a vaguely familiar face. The man, slightly older than us, turned from the bar and came across, smiled as he introduced himself and then sat down. Brett had been the Project Manager for the local company building our small estate of houses when we first moved to this part of the world all that time ago.
Now at this point I'm going to take a moment to add a Shakespearean aside.
Ours had been the first house finished and we had moved into it when the small street was still a messy, muddy building site. We had quickly made friends with the builders and kept them supplied with hot drinks when the weather was cold and wet. Indeed our kitchen became a haven for them. They had shown their gratitude, or at least I had thought so at the time, by doing little extra things in our house free of charge, and they were quite generous in doing so.
Let me offer an example - our house was small and I wanted a hobby room and so bought a wooden garden building. It had been brought to us and part of the deal was that the guys that delivered it would also set it up for us. So they duly arrived. Our building friends noted this and realizing what was going to happen, told them to hang on for a minute, we would give them a cup of tea, while they prepared the foundations. And prepare them they did! A gravel base appeared, was topped off with small sections of concrete and slabs were then laid to give a solid foundation.
So the shed was erected, power run properly in from the house, a path laid and all done in rapid time before I came home from my shift-work job later that night. Frankly it was breath-taking, a superb job and almost embarrassing in its generosity. In my naivety at the time I was just very grateful.
And that's the way I remained until quite recently. What had made me wonder was an article in a monthly magazine Janet, my wife, gets. It has an 'Agony Aunt' section and though I don't usually read them in any detail I often scan and have a quiet laugh to myself about some of the subjects that people write in about. That is until I came across a subject a few months back.
It was a letter from a lady asking how she should deal with a situation. Nothing unusual there I hear you comment. Except this lady detailed a problem that had occurred some long time before and obviously still felt guilty about. The lady had been having a house built in Scotland and she'd manage to get quite a lot of expensive extras for nothing by 'looking after' the builders with favours that had started in a small way with coffee, tea, cakes etc and had ended up with her being well and truly bedded by some of the builders involved. Her husband had not found out but she had been wrestling with her conscience, knowing that the guilt of her adultery had inhibited her sexual performance for so many years. Which was why she wanted help - should she tell her poor husband, and if so how the hell would she do so... ?
The crash of the penny dropping in my head was like the sound of a fruit machine jackpot dropping at Vegas rather than the clunk of a single penny hitting the floor. Fortunately my wife of some forty and odd years was out of the house when I read her magazine and couldn't spot either my stunned expression or my reaction to the 'Dear Abby' letter. The truth was that that was where we had lived and yes we had a huge amount of extras at the time. To be truthful I was so stunned I actually don't know what the recommendation as to how to deal with the situation was. I do know that having read the article, I put the magazine back on the coffee table and that by the next day it had disappeared.
So I said nothing. Well - what would you have done?
After all this had been some thirty and odd years ago and she was a month or so pregnant with our first son at the time. What would raking things up do or solve after all this time, other than perhaps to satisfy my curiosity. Interesting to contemplate that at the time, knowledge of what had happened might well have led to us parting. Now it would probably be very different as I had become curious as to what drove married couples who either had open marriages, or tolerated or even welcomed one or other having relationships outside of their marital bed. I had read a lot about it and as well as that curiosity I was also a lot more tolerant in my older age.
However, notwithstanding either my thoughts or any other plans I might have had - fate was yet going to play an interesting hand.
A close friend moved up to the area, North of the English Border and insisted that a few months down the line when they were settled into their new home and lifestyle, that we should drive up and stay with them. After all, her new home was less than an hour away from where she knew we used to live and at the very least we could either just drive past and have a look for old times' sake or maybe even look up friends from all that time ago.
We had accepted. Which is why after visiting our friend we were now checked into a hotel about ten miles away from our old home, for just one night.
And so here I was sat in the bar and the man who had just come and joined me was the person who had probably cuckolded me all that time ago.
There being no point in either accusative histrionics or anything else for that matter, so we passed pleasantries, as you do, and chatted over our respective drinks. Inevitably we discussed the main item we had in common - the building of our little cul-de-sac of houses. Equally inevitably of course, I just had to ask. "So, Brett, all that time ago, in the end Janet did pay for all of those extras, didn't she?"
Brett looked me straight in the eye. "Yes she did. Aye indeed - in full!"
His answer left me in no doubt as to what he meant.
At that point he looked over my shoulder and said, "I think I need to go..." and was up and leaving before I could argue.
I watched him cross the room on his way out as Janet, who he had seen entering and recognised, was coming across. He stopped briefly and said something to her as I watched. She staggered and almost fell before he steadied her by the elbow. Then they parted and she came on over to where I was sitting. I stood up as she approached, white as a sheet and with tears in her eyes.
"So you know?" was all she said.
And she then looked at me, realising I wasn't angry or shouting or upset.
I said, "I think we both need a stronger drink as a first!"
Also going to the bar gave me time to think what I wanted to say or how I was going to play out the scene.
I returned with a couple of double scotches and, sitting down, gave one to her. She just took it and as she drank it back in one, looked at me fearing her world had just collapsed.
I sighed gently and said, "Well at the very least we both need to talk - openly and honestly. However before we do I need to tell you something about my thoughts. Hear me out and let me say my piece then you can have your say. Do you want to stay here in the bar, it's open and with the background music it's also discreet, or would you rather grab a bottle of wine and go up to our room? Rest assured I'm not going to make a scene or shout or scream or worse. Or do you want something to eat first?"
Janet looked at me. "I can't eat just now, I don't feel well as it is, so perhaps cancel our table and take a bottle of wine to our room - there's some bottled water there as well if we want it. I'll go there now - I must look dreadful with my make-up running."
"OK - I'll join you there shortly."
As I went to Reception to order the wine for our room I couldn't help but wonder what my very straight-laced, convent-educated wife of forty and odd years was going to tell me - especially after I had told her how different and more open-minded I had become as I'd grown older...
Chapter 2: Realisation
I got to our bedroom about ten minutes later and entered to the sound of sobs from the inner room. Not a good start. How to continue? Perhaps nothing as I waited for the bottle of wine to be delivered? No, equally not a good idea.
In the end I cleared my throat as I sat on the end of the bed beside her and put my hand on her shoulder, "I thought you were going to have a tidy up and use the time as a chance to compose yourself?"
I got the reply I half expected, "What's the point? I've been found out and you're going to leave me, which is all I deserve."
I thought I'd better come straight to my point. "No! I'm not about to leave you. I'll come to why in a moment. Little if anything will change. But in the end it would be nice to have some answers now I've come to realise and understand what happened all those years ago. But no, as I said, I'm not going to leave you - so go wash your face and tidy up a bit while we wait for the wine.
Janet looked at me as if I'd got several heads as I told her I wasn't going, but at least stopped crying as she went off to the bathroom.
A few minutes later she came out, tidier, more composed and at least no tears although her eyes were still very red. As the wine had arrived I had poured us both a glass and took one over to her, then went and sat in the chair opposite.
.... There is more of this story ...