Author’s Note: Short story of looking at the past and wishing things had been different. There’s no sex in this story, so if that’s what you’re looking for I’d skip this one. This one is a little different than most of my other stories since I tried telling the story primarily through dialog. It was an experiment to help me get stronger as a writer. Hopefully it won’t come across as just a series of monologs.
My thanks to findingmyvoice, Mostera1 and outofshadows for making this a better read, findingmyvoice for her editing and Mostera1 and outofshadows for their story input and beta reads. Any errors you find are mine ... hell you know why.
The early morning light filled the hospital room, gently enveloping the three women standing guard over the man in the bed. He laid silently, his once muscular body now withered in pain, eaten from the inside out by cancer.
A late-fortyish, petite brunette cradled the man’s hand next to her cheek. Her curly, shoulder length hair hid her pretty, tearstained face. Sitting beside her was a late-twenties version of the woman.
On the other side of the bed was a thirtyish, tall attractive blonde, who bore many of the same facial features as the man lying in the bed. Lovingly she carefully wiped her father’s now bald head.
Their silent vigil was interrupted by a soft knock on the door. A tall, blonde man stuck his head in.
“Sis, is he awake?” he whispered to the blonde.
“Not right now, Tim,” replied Angie. “He’s only awake for short amounts of time. The morphine keeps putting him to sleep.”
“Molly?” he said gently, turning to the older brunette. “May we come in?”
She looked up at him, smiled weakly and nodded.
He stepped back and opened the door. A very attractive woman in her early fifties sheepishly entered the room. Her long hair was a heavy mixture of blonde and silver streaks that flowed loosely about her shoulders. Even at her age she still had a body women twenty years younger envied.
“Molly,” she softly greeted.
“Gwen, please come in.”
Angie stood up and looked over at Molly. Molly smiled reassuringly and nodded. The young blonde turned back to the guest.
“I guess you can sit here, Mom.”
“Thank you, Angie.”
What ensued was a human chess match. Each move by one of the human chess pieces caused a move by another piece. Each advancement toward the king resulted in a defensive counter move to protect him.
Finally the room settled. Gwen now sat on the other side of the bed from Molly and her daughter, Jessica. Angie had moved to a chair in one corner while Tim sat in the other corner chair.
“Thank you for allowing me to come today,” Gwen said softly. “When the kids told me Joe was going to spend whatever time was left at home, I had to ask to see him.”
“It was the right thing to do,” Molly replied wearily. “I talked it over with Joe and he agreed. He doesn’t want any visitors once we get him home later today, so I’m glad you were able to make it here before he’s released.”
He softly groaned as his eyes slowly opened. Eyes that hadn’t looked into each other for over a decade now became locked.
“Gwen?” he croaked softly.
“I’m here, Joe,” she whispered.
“I’m right here, honey,” his wife said gently, patting his hand.
He smiled weakly gazing into his wife’s soft brown eyes. Looking around the room he took note of everyone there.
“We are gathered here today...” he said, smirking as he heard several chuckles.
Closing his eyes he sighed deeply. He cleared his throat and stared at his ex-wife.
“Okay Gwen,” he said weakly. “Say ... what you need to say. I’m sorry if I doze. I can’t seem ... to stay awake.”
“I understand, Joe,” Gwen said. “I’ll keep it brief but if you fall asleep please don’t worry. Most of what I need to say is for our kids anyway.”
He nodded and she took a deep breath.
“Joe, I just wanted to tell you goodbye.”
“Already said that ... ten years ago.”
“Yes,” she said with a slight tremor in her voice. “I remember. But when I heard you were dying, I knew I still had some things I needed to say to you.”
“Forgive me,” she intensely whispered. “Please Joe, tell me you forgive me.”
They stared at each other silently for a minute before Joe sighed.
“You’re forgiven,” he said softly.
Gwen sat back obviously surprised by his response.
“Just like that?” she questioned.
“No ... not just like that. Took years ... to say that and mean it. Molly was ... key.”
He winced in pain and let out a muffled groan. Reaching over he pushed the button on his morphine drip. Within seconds, his breathing deepened and his face visibly relaxed. Minutes later he was asleep.
“I’m sorry, Gwen,” Molly said gently “he’ll be out for a while. I know it probably wasn’t what you hoped it would be.”
Gwen shook her head.
“Actually it was more than I’d dared hoped for. I could only dream of him saying he forgave me. I know I have you to thank for that.”
“No,” Molly said gently, shaking her head. “I could never talk Joe into doing something he truly doesn’t want to do. Oh, I know he’ll do things for me he prefers not to, but never something he didn’t feel was right.”
“Well I’m still thankful he found someone like you after I lost his love.”
“You didn’t lose his love, Mother,” Angie spat, “you threw it away.”
“I know, Angie,” Gwen replied sadly, “and that’s something I’ll regret for the rest of my life. You have regrets too, don’t you?”
Angie snorted and then sat quietly, lips pursed tightly, looking as if she’d sucked on a lemon.
“Sweetheart we all have regrets, things we wished we hadn’t done or things we’d hoped would’ve turned out differently. Some of those things we had no control over while others ... we brought upon ourselves. My greatest regret is that I allowed myself to go insane during those months.”
“Don’t try to excuse—” Angie snapped.
“No, I didn’t say I wasn’t responsible for my actions. Only that my thinking was severely messed-up during that time. There were a lot of things happening back then. Things I doubt either you or Tim were aware of. I know neither your father nor I ever told you details of everything that happened. Joe chose not to do that because he felt I’d betrayed him and not you two since you were both already out of the house. I never told you about it because ... well because it would’ve made you hate me even more than you already do.”
“I don’t hate you mother,” Angie said coldly. “I hate what you did, not you. However I’ll never sit quietly and listen to anyone downplay the magnitude of destruction and pain your cheating caused.”
“Angie, Tim, please believe me when I say I never considered the amount of pain my actions would cause.”
“How could you not, Mom?” Tim said calmly from his chair. “You had to know that cheating on Dad would hurt him. You and our family were the world to him.”
“You’re right I did know what I was doing was wrong but I ignored the possible consequences. When I did let myself think, I immediately knew the danger I’d put my marriage in. Unfortunately that realization didn’t come until I was already in the affair. By then, it was far too late.
“During the divorce everyone asked me why I’d done such a horrible thing. I wish I would’ve had a better explanation other than the pathetic excuses I came up with back then. I’ve had ten years to dissect my actions and I believe I now have a better idea of what happened.
“This isn’t an excuse,” she said staring coldly at her daughter, “just an explanation of how it happened. Up until now I’ve never wanted to admit the reasons because they make me look as selfish and shallow as I was. Simply stated, several things happened at the same time that presented me the opportunity to cheat on Joe and I arrogantly and foolishly walked right into it.”
“Gwen,” Molly said gently, “you’re a very beautiful woman. I’m sure you had many opportunities to break your marriage vows over all the years you two were married.”
Gwen smiled weakly at her ex-husband’s wife.
“Thank you and you’re right I had lots of opportunities but not like this. Joe had started traveling again after he’d accepted a large contract. I knew he took it to help pay for Angie and Tim’s college and we’d discussed it and were in agreement. It was only for six months but it affected me worse than I’d ever dreamed it would. When he’d traveled earlier in our marriage, I’d had the kids there to help me deal with it. With both of them in college, I was by myself. I felt so old and alone.
“Then at work a handsome younger man began pursuing me. I knew Douglas was just in it for the sex but having a good-looking, rising corporate star giving you attention is flattering.”
Angie snorted as Tim’s pained look of disappointment was written plainly on his face. Gwen quickly continued.
“Like I said,” she said calmly as she looked at her children, “I was arrogant and selfish. I know it doesn’t excuse what I did but hopefully you’ll see how I allowed it to happen. I want you to know it was never anything that your father did or didn’t do. It was my fears and then my ego that opened the door. I never stopped loving him, even during the affair.”
“How can you say that, Mother?” Angie sneered. “You were sleeping with another man!”
“I know you don’t believe it but it’s true. The problem wasn’t that I didn’t love your father because I did. The problem was I loved myself more! During that time I put my needs and wants ahead of the family and your father’s needs. For four months, I used my unhappiness to justify my betraying my marriage vows. When I finally came to my senses, I broke off the affair. But the seeds of destruction had already been planted. I’d hoped I could live with it and spare your father the pain of finding out his wife was a cheating slut. I knew there was a good chance he’d divorce me if he ever found out.”
“Then why tell him, Mom?” Tim said sadly.
“Was it just to ease you own guilt?” Angie interjected.
“No sweetheart, that wasn’t the only reason. Yes my guilt was eating me alive. I knew your father could tell things were different after that contract. That year after my affair, things between us were so tense at times. I realized then sooner or later I was going to have to confess to him. However fate stepped in to make it sooner than I’d hoped.
“When I broke off the affair with Douglas, I knew neither of us wanted anyone to know about it. He actually had more to lose than I did. He was married to the daughter of one of our Board of Directors and was our corporation’s star project manager. He was on course to be our youngest corporate vice president. So when I ended the affair I made one stipulation, he wasn’t ever to have contact with Joe or work on any project with him.
“My corporation had contracted with your father’s company several times in the past and I couldn’t bear the thought of Joe answering to Douglas. Douglas would always have the secret knowledge he’d slept with me and he might’ve somehow held that over your father. I couldn’t take the chance he’d disrespect Joe.
“Sounds silly, right? After I’d disrespected your father for those months? Douglas agreed of course. Things seemed like they were going to be okay if I could just get past the guilt ... then that damn government contract came along!
“It was potentially worth millions and I knew Douglas would head up any GSA project if we won it. I also knew Joe’s company was going to be deeply involved with it as well. It was after we won the bid my fears were realized. It was announced Joe would be heading up the engineering team that was an essential element to the project. He, of course, would be answering to the project manager, Douglas!
“I confronted Douglas and reminded him about our agreement but he told me business was business and refused to step aside. I don’t think he believed I’d go through with my threat ... he was wrong.
Gwen paused and took a deep breath. The tears streaming down her face attested to the pain the memories caused.
“Your father handled my confession like I expected he would. He sat stoically and listened, asking several clarifying questions. I could see him gathering the information he needed before making a decision. When I saw a tear begin to run down his cheek, I knew it would end badly for us.
“The next day he removed himself from the team. I don’t know if he was trying to take the high road and protect his company’s interest or if he suspected what would happen when he stepped down. Either way it couldn’t have worked out any better for your father since all hell broke loose!
“He was a key part to that team so when he tried to step down it got everyone’s attention, including the bigwigs in both our companies. When they started asking questions, their assistants started digging for answers. It didn’t take them long to uncover Douglas and my affair. That’s when the nightmares that had tormented me for the past year became a reality.
“As I expected, the dollar sign outweighed any clout Douglas had and he was removed from the project. It worked out well for Joe and his company though. The embarrassment of the situation prompted my corporate leadership to offer a larger percentage of the contract’s profits to his company and he ended up getting promoted. Douglas and I didn’t fair near as well.
“Why would you have expected too?” Tim commented coldly.
“I didn’t, sweetheart,” Gwen said softly. “Not even back then.”
The shame of her confession was etched in her usually pretty face. It was obvious she’d carried this burden for many years.
“What I could never imagined was how bad things were about to get. Douglas and I both tried to find other employment only to find we were effectively blacklisted. Apparently Douglas’ father-in-law took his family and daughter’s embarrassment very personal.
“Douglas ended up getting assigned to every nasty project in some of the worst third world countries. After spending several years jumping from one armpit of the world to the next he finally gave up. He gave his wife her divorce and crawled away with nothing. Last I heard he was selling insurance in Detroit.
“Since he was a couple levels above me on the corporate latter, he was still considered one of my supervisors. I know the company feared a lawsuit, so they promoted me. They promoted me right back into some office that never sees the light of day. I guess I shouldn’t complain, the money is decent but my career is essentially over.”
She paused and looked into the eyes of each individual in the room as if she was trying to assess how they were receiving her confession. Jessica had a pinched look on her face as she was obviously annoyed to hear how her stepfather had been betrayed. Molly looked concerned and guarded. It was easy to tell she already knew most of this.
It was Tim and Angie’s looks that caused her to falter. The hurt and disappointment in their eyes seemed like it was more than she could bear. Slowly she gathered herself and continued.
“If I’d thought things were bad at work then what was happening at home was a living hell. My marriage was collapsing and there was wasn’t anything I could do to stop it.
“Joe sat down and talked to me a few times after he filed for divorce. I apologized until I was blue in the face. I told him that none of it was his fault, that it was me who’d destroyed our wonderful marriage.
“He said it couldn’t have been too wonderful if it wasn’t enough to keep me out of Douglas’ bed. That hurt. I understood why he was bitter and why he’d said it but it still hurt. Joe then asked me why I’d cheated. My answer was just a string of excuses. After that, he broke off all communication with me.
“At first I was angry and frustrated. I was mad at myself for bringing all this down on us and I was frustrated at Joe for not trying to help save the marriage.”
“Oh please, Mother!” Angie scolded. “If Daddy would’ve cheated on you, would you have forgiven him and fought for the marriage?”
Gwen slowly shook her head and smiled sadly.
“We both know the answer to that, sweetheart. I would’ve been much more vindictive and would have tried to inflict much more pain than your father did.
“Angie I said I was disappointed, not that I didn’t understand why he was reacting that way. I didn’t really blame him. I was angry because I saw our twenty year marriage circling the drain. I knew I’d pulled the plug, but I was infuriated that I couldn’t stop it. Only Joe had the ability to save it and he chose not to. You know if he’d really wanted to make my life a living hell, he would’ve taken me back.”
There were several small gasps.
“You’ve always had a way with words, haven’t you, Mother,” Angie sneered.
“That’s not what I meant and you know it, Angie,” she said with tears beginning to fill her eyes.
“What did you mean, Mom?” Tim asked gently from behind her.
“I would’ve done anything to show your father how sorry I was for destroying us. I would’ve degraded myself in ways that would’ve shamed an old, Tijuana whore if he could’ve somehow found a way to love me again.
“But I knew the night I told him about my affair that it would never happen. Even through my tears, I could see how deeply I’d wounded the man I claimed to love. I swear I saw his love for me die right there in front of me. Our marriage was over right then, I saw it in his eyes.”
“He had to move on, Mom,” Tim said softly. “We all did.”
“Yes, I know. I also know I’m still having some difficulties doing that. You kids have been a great help to me in those areas. Oh I know you were angry with me at first ... no furious was more like it. You had every right to be but you didn’t abandon me. I’m not sure I could’ve survived that. I’m thankful Joe didn’t turn you against me.”
“Dad would’ve never done that,” Tim stated calmly.
“No,” Gwen said shaking her head, “no, that wouldn’t have been him.”
She smiled sadly at her son and then turned towards Molly.
“Did you know I prayed that somehow some way I could get my marriage back? I begged and pleaded with God to somehow change Joe’s heart and mind and give me another chance. I know I didn’t deserve it, but it’s what I wanted.
“I held on to that dream for over a year. Then Angie told me he’d started seriously dating you, Molly. That was when I knew my prayers weren’t going to be answered.
“It wasn’t until after you and Joe got married that I seriously tried to get on with my life. I started dating again and that was when I found out just what kind of a marriage I’d had before I destroyed it. We’d had something very good but I’d forgotten how special it was.
“But I was reminded when I started dating again, boy how I was reminded! I dated quite a bit but it never failed, I’d start comparing them to Joe and it wouldn’t last too long after that.
“There’s a special kind of intimacy between lovers that only comes with time. Only someone who’s made love to you many times before knows when you want to be taken forcefully with a raw passion or when just gentle caresses and a soft kiss will send you over the edge. You can’t imagine how humbling it is to realize just because you crave your lover to know those things it won’t happen. It’s not because he’s not willing but because he doesn’t know you and your body well enough to know what brings you the most satisfaction at that moment.
“My nightmare was realizing I was the reason those things were gone. Because of my actions every romantic relationship I now had was forced to start from scratch. Oh, there were a few relationships that seemed to be promising over the years. Two of them even ended in proposals but I turned both of them down.”
“Why?” Molly asked with concern written on her face.
“Why didn’t I accept?” Gwen sighed deeply. “Well that’s a bit complicated. One reason was I was still in love with my ex-husband.”
“Mother!” Angie scolded again.
“No!” Gwen snapped back at her. “You don’t get to tell me what I’m already very much aware of. You can’t say anything I haven’t heard or told myself a million times. None of you get to tell me what I feel.
“I love your father and I always will. I know it doesn’t change anything but I’ll always feel guilty for what I did. I’m learning to try to live with those feelings and move on. In some ways I have, but in other areas I’m still stuck.
“Angie sweetheart,” Molly said softly, trying to calm the situation. “It’s okay, I’m not jealous. I know how much your daddy loves me.”
Gwen flinched slightly.
“I know that as well, Molly,” Gwen continued, steadying herself. “That’s why I felt like I could make that statement. I know you will forever have his love. I admit I’m jealous of that but it was my own doing.
“Please, I don’t want anyone to think my feelings for Joe were the reason I turned down those marriage proposals. It’s much deeper than that. Just like everyone in here, I questioned that if I really loved my husband like I said I did, how could I betray him like that? I wish I had an answer I could live with.
“So I compared my love for my would-be suitors to my love for Joe. And since my feelings for each of them wasn’t as strong as my feelings for him, I had a problem. If I couldn’t stay faithful to Joe how could I promise either of them my fidelity? I cared enough about them to turn each one down. At that time it was the right thing to do, since it wouldn’t have been fair to them.”
“I’m sorry,” Molly gently spoke. “I’m sorry you’re going through that.”
Gwen smiled sadly.
“It’s easy to see why Joe fell in love with you, Molly,” she said sadly. “You’re beautiful on both the inside and outside.”
“Thank you but please,” Molly said her face pinched with concern, “please don’t make me out to be some kind of saint. I have my own regrets, Gwen. Most concern my first marriage but one in particular is related to Joe.”
“Mom?” an alarmed Jessica questioned.
“No, it wasn’t something terrible but it is something I’m ashamed of. Since Gwen has been so brave when talking about her regrets I’ll try to follow suit.
“It happened a few months after Joe and I had started dating. Our dates had been quite hot and heavy but we hadn’t umm ... well we weren’t...”
Molly paused, her face contorted as she struggled to find the appropriate words.
“Having sex?” Jessica said, smiling.