She was home by 9:30.
She was always home by that time on Thursday, sometimes a little earlier. Couldn't be too careful.
It was always 10:15 on the dot when he came home from his lodge meeting. You could set a clock by it. Her father got him into it, he only went along with it to please them both. But, after he joined, he found he enjoyed the civic service aspect. He was so good at organizing fundraisers and social events that he was nominated and elected to the board of governors. As chairman of the Scholarship Committee, he worked long and hard to raise support and garner money for the project. Thanks to his efforts they were able to fund two community college scholarships a year for deserving young people.
She made sure she was clean and presentable when he got home. Sometimes she would be in bed, but often she would wait up and they would talk about the day, how the scholarship fund was progressing, the mundane things people who were married chatted about before bed. Sometimes they made love, but usually just snuggled until they slept.
The first glimmer things could be wrong came when she pulled into the driveway. She couldn't get into the garage, his car was parked at an angle blocking both doors. A feeling of unease gripped her as she got out. He had talked to her just moments before and she had told him she was at home.
Damn, she loved this house. A firm believer in apartment living, she had let him talk her into this place when the lease was up for renewal.
It was a fairly new three bedroom house, on a small lot. The selling point was the porch, wrapping completely around the house. There was a swing under the ceiling fans up front. They would often sit under them, swinging slightly, enjoying the warm summer nights.
She was sharp enough to know what he was up to. This was a family house. In her mind she could even see the swing set and kiddie pool in the enclosed backyard.
One of the happiest moments in her life up to then happened last month, while they were putting in a new flower bed. She threw a little potting soil at him to get his attention.
"Hey yourself. Did I miss a spot?"
"No. I just needed to tell you I'm ready."
"No you're not. We haven't put the fertilizer or lime down yet. We have to mix it in before we plant."
"Not that ready. Ready to have a baby ready."
It's a good thing flower beds are soft, she thought, as he dove on her and pressed her down.
The lovemaking afterwards was slow, gentle, more in line with swapping souls instead of bodily fluids. She had never felt so loved. Most surprising were the tears he shed. He was always so calm, so in control.
She stepped on the porch, heading for the front door, trying to be as quiet as possible.
She jumped. He was sitting in the swing. The porch light wasn't on and she hadn't noticed him.
"Jesus, Kenny. You scared me. Come on, let's go inside."
"No, come sit by me for awhile. Let's enjoy the breeze for a few minutes."
He patted the space beside him on the swing.
"Where were you? You said you were here, but you weren't when I got home."
She shifted uncomfortably on the swing.
"Oh, I wasn't sleepy. I remembered I was almost out of gas and didn't want to try to get it in the morning, so I ran down to the corner market."
The car only had a quarter tank, she hoped he didn't check it.
He reached out and held her hand.
"Really? I could have sworn you just returned from the Hideaway Motel over on Fifth. Room 69, kind of funny, huh? That is the room, isn't it? Jerry is kind of superstitious about things like that. Isn't this where you usually meet every
Thursday from 6:30 until 9:00?"
She gasped and tried to pull her hand back, but he had a firm grip and wouldn't let go.
"Relax, Les. I'm not going to hurt you. But I want you to promise to listen without interruption. I promise it will be your turn to speak and me to listen when we're done. Will you do that for me? Good."
She was hunched over, drawing up into a little ball, snuffling audibly. He resumed talking in a quiet, toneless voice.
"When I first found out, I refused to believe it. One of your friends saw you, and no, I don't know which one, she sent me an email from a public account."
"At first, I ignored it. But the seed had been planted, and it sprouted, gripping crevices in my brain until I finally had to get rid of it by disproving it. So I checked."
"I had a friend watch the house for me. Do you have any idea how revolting it is to ask some one to do that? Especially when he's a friend to both of us."
"This favor may have ended my friendship with him. It was terrible watching him fight his emotions as he gave me the rundown. He even had
photos of you and him going into and coming out of the motel room, including the hello and goodbye kisses. Just lucky for us he doesn't know who the man was. He tends to avoid me now, I think the pain he saw that day in my face is what he sees now every time he looks at me."
Small sobs were escaping. She tried to speak but he put his fingers gently to her lips.
"Hush now, you promised to listen first."
He held his fingers to her until he felt a small nod.
"Good. I'll try not to take too much longer."
The porch light wasn't on, the only illumination to the scene was what light slipped through the living room drapes. Even though he continued to speak in a calm, even tone, his face was a mask of pain and anguish. But in the darkness she couldn't see it.
"When he showed me the pictures, I swear the sound of my heart breaking almost deafened me. Literally, my ears were ringing. But as I thought about it, I felt I needed to know why. Why could you two do this to us?
For the first time his calm broke, and a shuddering sob slipped out. He breathed deeply for a minute, fighting for control.
"Your own sister, Leslie, how could you. When your mom died she stepped in and practically raised you. You have to know, at fifteen the last thing she would want was the responsibility of a nine year old. But she stepped up. Missed dates, dances, school activities so she could be available for you. Your Dad told me one year money was so tight that she gave up Christmas so you could have something under the tree. She loved you more like a daughter than a sister. You know she will eventually find out."
"Even though she deserves the truth, I'll never tell her. I love her too much to inflict such pain. Maybe she can forgive Jerry, she's the best woman I know. But forgiving you, Les, I don't know if even her heart is that big."
Tears were rolling down her cheeks, gaining in speed and volume as she realized for the first time the repercussions of her acts. She remembered the thrill, the smugness of knowing a secret, of getting away with something. It seemed so childish to her now.
Her mind was already seeking ways of damage control, hoping desperately she could fix this. How could she have been so stupid? But deep down she knew he loved her so much he would forgive her anything.That was her anchor, her rationalization that even if she was caught he would never leave her. For the first time, doubts crept in.
"I had to know, Les. Why? It was consuming me. So I bugged your purse."
"Remember that spiffy little flashlight I bought for you? It was also a voice activated recorder. Amazing what you can find on the net these days."
"You know what amazed me? There didn't seem to be any spark between you. It was like, we're here, let's fuck so we can get home to our families."
"He even referred to it once as 'knocking off a quick piece', and you were giggling and agreeing.
If it meant so little to both of you, why did you do it?"
"Oddly though, that gave me hope. If it meant so little then maybe it was going to end soon. Had that happened, I would have took my knowledge of your affair to the grave."