This story was written and published elsewhere in April 2011. I thought I'd finally test the waters here at SOL. Thanks again to Rehnquist for his feedback on my initial drafts; as he not only told me, but proved with his suggestions, "there's no such thing as good writing, just good editing!"
Nicole sat alone in a small conference room, several floors up in an edge-of-downtown office building. Spread out on the table in front of her were the divorce papers her husband, Tom, was asking her to sign. After much negotiation through their lawyers, he'd agreed to meet with her, here. She waited for him to arrive, rehearsing once more the speech she hoped would cause him to reconsider.
Her heart, already pounding, nearly thundered when Tom entered the room. She had not been this physically close to him for some time. Even when exchanging the kids for visitations, Tom had kept his distance.
Nervously, she smiled and started to rise; but Tom put his hand out, gesturing for her to stay seated. He took a chair opposite to her and slowly sank into it. He looked at her, sighed, and shrugged his shoulders.
"Tom," she said, "thanks for meeting with me. I have a lot to say. I ... I wrote it down, to be sure that I..."
She reached into her purse and drew out an envelope. She'd handwritten his name on it, in flowing script. With shaking hands, she began to open it.
"Nicole ... stop."
She looked up. Tom was reaching for an unmarked envelope on the table. Her hopes rose, as if borne on a sudden gust of warm wind. Was her fantasy going to come true?
He wrote his own letter. He's going to forgive me. He's going to tear up all these other papers and take me home.
Then the wind died, and Nicole's hopes fell back to earth. It was too much to expect, she realized, that Tom would have something so wonderful to say to her; besides, even if he did, it wouldn't be right that he go first. Hands still shaking, she resumed the surprisingly difficult task of extricating her letter from the envelope.
"Nicole, please ... stop."
This time, Nicole felt a different sort of gust. A cold chill. Something in Tom's voice...
And what's in that envelope he's holding?
"Nicole," he said slowly, "I agree to meet you here. So I have. Now I'm going to leave."
No ... NO! What...
While Nicole struggled to formulate some kind of protest, Tom put his envelope on the table and pushed it towards her.
"Whatever you wanted to say to me ... well, read this first."
Nicole stared at it, afraid to touch it. Meanwhile, Tom rose from his chair.
"It's ... well, you'll see," he said, before turning towards the door.
Tentatively, she reached for the envelope. As she did, Tom left the room. Once again, Nicole was alone.
She unsealed the envelope and looked inside. It seemed to contain a single sheet of paper. Hands shaking even worse now, she removed the document with great difficulty, unfolded it, and studied it.
Printed on the page, on the left-hand side, were five statements, each numbered. In columns, to the right of the first four statements, were the words "TRUE" and "FALSE." It was a quiz. A "true or false" quiz.
She wondered if there was any meaning in that.
Is this my chance—my last chance—to prove myself true, and win him back?
Nicole picked up the pen and considered the first statement.
"1. I never forgot your birthday or our wedding anniversary."
The statement puzzled her. She'd never accused Tom of forgetting those dates. What was his point?
She read the statement again. Still puzzled, she put the quiz down on the table. Something began to tug at her mind; something familiar.
Table ... I was sitting at a table ... important dates, missed...
Then she remembered.
She was sitting at a table with her neighbor, Sheila. They were having coffee in Sheila's kitchen. Eventually, the conversation turned to family matters.
"Bob is driving me crazy," Sheila said. "Did I tell you, he forgot about our wedding anniversary again? He does that almost every year. He's not much better with Valentine's Day, or my birthday ... always remembers Mothers' Day, though! Never misses taking his mother out to brunch, makes reservations weeks in advance..."
"Easy for you to laugh, Nicole. You've got it all there in Tom. If only Bob were more like him."
"Well, it's not all..." Nicole stopped herself and took a large sip from her cup.
"Not all what?"
"I guess..." Nicole stopped herself again and looked out the window, towards her house.
Sheila leaned towards her, eyebrows raised. "C'mon, don't let me be the only sad, whiny bitch here!"
Nicole could see that she needed some cheering up-or at least, some assurance that she wasn't as alone as she felt.
"You know, maybe from the outside everything looks great over there," Nicole said slowly, nodding towards the window, "but if you ... well, what's it they say? 'Appearances can be deceiving?'"
Intrigued, Sheila refilled Nicole's cup and stared expectantly at her.
"It's like ... well, last weekend, Tom was home, I asked him to change some light bulbs. Night rolls around, I turn on the lights ... nothing. He'd forgotten. Glued to the couch, watching sports all day. I know he gets tired from work, I didn't say anything, but I just felt like..."
"Honey, I know," Sheila said, putting her hand on Nicole's. "And don't get me started on dishes."
"Dishes!" Nicole exclaimed. "If Tom would just wipe his plate off and put it in the sink, instead of piling the cruddy things up on the countertop..."
"Yeah," Sheila replied, "and get this. After I've washed the dishes, put the kids to sleep, I crawl into bed, just wanting to read for a few minutes before I conk out-and Bob jumps in, smirking, wants to ... you know, get friendly."
Nicole huffed in sympathy. "Been there, done that. The old 'grab my boob' thing. Like that's supposed to instantly get me wet—"
Embarrassed at her sauciness, Nicole covered her mouth and looked down at her cup. Sheila, not offended, just laughed. Then Nicole cracked up, too.
The gripe-fest continued. For a while, Nicole thought of her contributions as just a show of camaraderie and a bit of harmless fun. But as the gripes—including hers—got more and more serious, there was no more laughter.
Later, when Tom came home and did something that rubbed Nicole the wrong way, she pouted about it more than she might have done before.
As the scene faded back into Nicole's memory, she looked again at the first statement on the quiz.
"I never forgot your birthday or our wedding anniversary."
Tom couldn't have known about the conversation with Sheila. That couldn't have been his point. So why had that memory come to her, just now?
Because that was the beginning of all this, wasn't it? Not exactly, I guess ... the things I said to Sheila, the things I huffed about later, they'd been going on for some time already. It was just the first time I admitted to someone else—hmm, before I even admitted to myself—that I was unhappy in any way. After that, I indulged that unhappy feeling every time I thought I had a reason, didn't I?
In the counseling that Nicole had started recently, she'd talked a lot with her therapist, Dr. Silver, about stress. Stress from juggling the two kids, a part-time job, her ailing parents, and her husband. Dr. Silver had asked her how she'd managed it.
Not well. I would stew over things about Tom, not realizing how hot and pressurized the magma was getting. When I finally would say something to him, it was never constructive; just an eruption.
Tom wasn't participating in the counseling. No, he didn't want anything to do with Nicole these days. But before things got—well, to where they were now—he admitted that he hadn't been the perfect husband. If she was trying to give him a wake-up call, he said, he'd gotten the message.
But it wasn't a wake-up call. It was a good-night call. Good-night to our marriage. I told him it was too late. That I didn't love him anymore.
Tom had been good about remembering important dates, though. For a moment, the statement on the quiz again seemed trivial. Yet, given Nicole's situation, there had to be more to it, right?
Never forgot my birthday ... never forgot ... me?
Never forgot our wedding anniversary ... never forgot ... us?
Like her, Tom had been forced to juggle. He had the same kids, of course. He too had a spouse-a spouse who, with increasingly frequency, was blowing up at him. He didn't have ailing parents, but he had a full-time job. It made ceaseless demands upon his attention and energy.
But he drew boundaries, as best he could. He made mistakes, forgot a lot of little things, mishandled even a few important things ... but he never forgot me, never forgot us.
I should have let the small stuff go. And I should have put more effort into improving the important things. Instead, I just let it all fester, equally.
All that time I was thinking about him, I'd really forgotten about him. All the things I liked about him. Loved about him.
And I forgot about us. It became all about me.
Bringing the pen to the level of the first statement on the quiz, Nicole traced to the right and circled the word "true."
"2. You turned down Italy."
Wow, Nicole thought. The Italy thing. What did that have to do with their present situation? It had been, what, five years ago? No, four maybe?
Or three? Two? Damn, I really have no idea. Is my life, before all ... this ... started to happen, really that blurry?
Though it had nothing to do with the "Italy thing," Nicole found herself thinking about another time she'd been sitting in an office, feeling blurry—blurry-eyed, to be specific.
It was a late night at work, and a quiet one. The office was empty except for Nicole and Jake, an outside consultant brought in to assist with the project. The deadline was six weeks away, but there was still so much to do.
"Rough working these odd hours, hey?" Jake said, furiously typing away.
"Yeah," Nicole replied, "every week my schedule gets reshuffled. But it's ... well, nice to be trusted with a significant part of the project, even though I'm just a part-timer."
"I don't get that. You seem like the glue that holds this place together. I'll bet you'll get a full-time position out of this, when it's over."
"Maybe, assuming we pull it off."
"Yeah. Guess I better type faster!"
Jake started hitting the keys so quickly that he couldn't possibly be entering anything correctly. Nicole laughed.
Being around Jake made the long, odd hours tolerable, even fun. He was a cut-up, and easy on the eyes, especially for a consultant. Unlike her regular co-workers, he made her feel intelligent, witty, and best of all, attractive. Though he'd never been forward, she'd caught him looking her over more than once.
Tonight, however, he seemed distracted, almost somber.
"So," she asked him, "what are you going to get out this, when it's over?"
"Probably just another..." He waved at the papers spread about. "And not with someone like you. It'll be some asshole, and I'll want to quit and ... well, let's just say this line of work isn't what I thought it would be, but I don't see a better option right now."
She asked him to explain. At first, he was dismissive, reluctant to talk about himself. But when she pressed him, something gave way. He stopped typing. When he finally spoke, out spilled a story of frustrations, regrets, and unrealized dreams.
Nicole listened attentively. His past was interesting. His hopes for the future were interesting too. What struck Nicole most, however, was the very idea that the future could be interesting. When, in recent years, had the future seemed to her anything more than an interminable repetition of her present?
Their talk that night led to many more—and increasingly personal—discussions. Not all were in the office. There were lunch breaks on those days when they were working regular hours, and dinner breaks during those increasingly frequent late nights as the deadline approached.
The more she watched him talk, the more she became obsessed with his lips.
With how it might feel to kiss them.
Recoiling at the illicitness of that last thought, Nicole ended her trip down memory lane and focused again on the quiz.
The Italy thing. Tom wanted to go to Italy. Just him and me. Leave the kids with the grandparents.
I said no. Wait, did I actually say it? Maybe, but more likely, I just wore him down with doubts, issues, and reluctance, until he gave up.
What had been those doubts, those issues? The basis for the reluctance?
It wasn't because of Jake. Hadn't met him yet. Wasn't because of the project at all; that came a long time after.
Was it work in general? The kids? The expense? Having to pack, and then live out of a suitcase? The long flights, the jet lag? Not speaking the language?
It could have been any and all of those things, but honestly, I don't remember.
As Nicole searched her thoughts and feelings for more clarity, she felt something unsettling begin to bubble up. Her first instinct was to ignore it, to suppress it, until she looked at the quiz again.
True or false. This is a test.
She let the bubbles rise.
It probably was all those things, and a thousand other little things, but at the core ... I just didn't want to go with Tom. What would I do with him? I guess I just wasn't interested. Or, if I was interested, for some reason I fought it. Fought it off, instead of fighting for it...
The rising bubbles became a geyser.
But it wasn't just about him, was it? No, I was down on myself then, too. I didn't believe I could keep him happy for ten days. What would we do? What would we talk about? We knew everything about each other that we'd ever want to know; what was left to share?
And as for the future ... well, that wasn't any more exciting, it had seemed. Talk about what the kids had ahead of them, the cost of college, if they could even get into good ones? Blah. Talk about what the future held at work? Blah. Talk about...
Blah, blah, blah.
It wasn't just that I'd lost interest in Tom, though that might have been true. I'd lost interest in myself. I'd lost interest in ... interest.
Then something happened, when I met Jake. I found him interesting. I liked being interested in something. And I liked it that he was interested in me.
Nicole's attention returned to the quiz.
"You turned down Italy."
Yes, she'd turned Tom down on Italy. What else had she turned him down on, over the years?
How many other romantic plans did I ruin? How many times did I swat him away, like a fly, when he would come on to me, pathetically perhaps, but spontaneously, hoping to ignite some passion? And when he was down, exhausted, distracted, unable to be the spark in our relationship ... when did I ever pick up the slack?
Nicole circled "true" after the second statement and looked fearfully to the next one.
3. "Since we were married, you've been my only lover."
Nicole read the statement several times, lingering particularly on one word.
She mouthed the word, silently, over and over. Such an uncommon word in ordinary conversation. When had she last heard someone use it? What did it mean?
Someone you have sex with?
Again, Nicole's thoughts drifted back in time, but not to a scene in her office, Sheila's kitchen, or some other familiar place. Instead, she remembered a hotel room.
There was no slow seduction. No necking, no petting, no tender, romantic, tentative kissing. Not like at the bar, two weeks ago, when they were celebrating the completion of the project. No, they'd been come to this hotel room for something more.
Hurriedly, they began to undress. By the time Nicole was down to her bra and panties, she was trembling, almost violently. She was nervous, but was it from excitement or guilt? Maybe both?
There was plain old fear, too—it had been a long time since she'd revealed her body to a new man. She'd been so much younger, fitter, and prettier then. How would a man see her now?
Nicole was especially worried about removing her next article of clothing. Her breasts, once proud assets, were not what they used to be. As she prepared to release them, she turned her back to Jake, hoping the room would suddenly go dark.
A shadow fell on her, but it was only from Jake, stepping towards her. He reached for the clasp of her bra and undid it. As her bra started to fall away, she brought her hands up to cover herself. Gently, he pushed her hands down, drew closer, and looked over her shoulder.
He gasped. For a moment, she thought it might be in disappointment, but he quickly dispelled that notion. Reaching around her, he took her breasts in his hands and moaned.
"You're so gorgeous," he whispered in her ear.
She found the sincerity and hunger in his voice as stimulating as the hot breath on her neck and the urgent manner of his caresses. Her nipples were swollen, erect. When his fingers grazed them, her whole body felt electrified.
Closing her eyes, she leaned back into him, her arm reaching for the back of his head. When his lips fell upon her neck, she went weak in the knees. As he steadied her, she felt something hard press against her backside. Subtly, she swayed against it, as if trying to confirm her suspicions.
Jake took notice. He released her breasts, removed his briefs, and turned her around. Taking her hand, he placed it on his cock. It felt so warm, so pulsating ... and so hard! Hard for her!
He wavered, as if transfixed by the pleasure she was delivering by stroking him. Then, after a passionate kiss, he gently removed her hand, sunk to his knees, and placed his hands on her hips. His face was directly in front of her panties.
His fingers slipped under the waistband.
Nicole shivered in expectation. This was it—the point of no return. In a moment, they would both be completely revealed to each other, and lust would run its course.
She placed her hands on Jake's head and ran her fingers through his hair, signaling that she wanted him to continue.
As Jake proceeded to slowly lower her panties down her legs, she realized she was still wearing her high-heel shoes. Being in an unfamiliar place, naked, and about to have sex with a man who was not her husband had charged her up so much already. Yet now, she had a thought that made her pussy tingle even more.
When her panties reached her ankles, Jake made as if to remove her shoes. She tapped his shoulder. When he looked up, she shook her head, "No."
His eyes bulged and his smile curled with amazement and desire. Staring down at that face, she swore she could feel moisture flooding inside her. She stepped out of her panties and seductively kicked them aside.
Jake's eyes again flared at hers, then traveled down the length of her body to her exposed bush, which she'd neatly trimmed just the day before. The anticipation at what Jake would do next-and what else they would do to each other, here in this room-was exquisite. Anticipation had not been part of her sex life for a long, long time.
An hour later, when they were done, Jake left the hotel room first. Just before closing the door behind him, he blew her a kiss. Hastily, she blew one back at him. It felt a bit awkward, but it also made her giggle. She could not remember the last time she had giggled over anything.
Lying in bed, sweaty and disheveled, she felt cum leaking out of her. Not her husband's cum. She had allowed another man to come in her; she had made another man come in her! The thoughts were at once both prideful and shameful, both thrilling and terrifying.
Back in the present, Nicole felt flush, but only slightly so. She wondered how she could have felt so differently about Jake back then. Now, it was Tom who she wished would meet her in some hotel room and fuck her brains out.
She wondered at that too. Even before the affair, sex with her husband had become so inessential to her. Occasionally she'd look forward to it, but more often, it felt obligatory, perfunctory.
But when Jake made me take his ... take him in my hand, that first time, it felt so alive!
Yet Jake's cock was no more alive than her husband's. It was just a different cock, one she was not supposed to be touching. Perhaps that was part of what had made her react to its warmth and pulse in a way she had not reacted to touching Tom in some time?
And yes, Jake's cock had been hard—hard for her—but Tom had never failed to "get it up" for her, either. Why, for so long, hadn't she gotten a thrill from seeing Tom aroused, as she'd been thrilled by Jake's arousal? Because Tom's was a given, something expected? Something she didn't really see anymore?
Like a painting, on a wall in your house, that after a while, only visitors notice. They say, "That's a nice painting," and you say, "Huh? Oh, that."
"Huh, oh that." Guess that could have described my attitude towards every aspect of my marriage at that time.
Now that Nicole desperately desired to have her husband back, her sexual thoughts centered on him, not Jake. But as she recalled her liaisons with Jake, she found that apart from the guilt her memories brought on, they were not unpleasant. Nor were they hazy.
I wasn't passed out. I wasn't drunk, or even buzzed. I was out of control, maybe, but very much present and aware.
I pleasured, and received pleasure from, another man. Not just that once, but many times after. I remember it; though the exact feelings are already fading, perhaps I'll always remember much of it.
As if trying to dispel the images from her mind, Nicole looked around the room, her eyes eventually settling on the quiz.
"Since we were married, you've been my only lover."
I've had extramarital sexual experiences that I'll carry with me forever, but Tom ... all he's had, and all he'll ever have, is the knowledge that I screwed around on him. That, plus his imagination of what that screwing involved.
When we're together, he'll wonder, "Is she remembering how it was with him? Is she comparing me to him?"
Maybe I'll suggest something new, and he'll think, "Is this what she did with him? What else did they do that she never did with me?"
Maybe he'll see a cute girl on the street, and he'll think jokingly, "Hmm, if I weren't married, I would..." He'll stop himself, shake his head, tell himself to behave. Then he'll remember what I actually did with another guy. And he'll wonder if, at that very moment, I'm not on out of some street, sizing up some other guy, thinking what it would be like to invite him to a hotel room. How long will it be, he'll ask, before I take another...
Nicole read the statement on the quiz again. She knew the sexual aspect of the affair had been devastating to Tom, but she also knew he wasn't a shallow man. There had to be something more to the statement.
Lover. Someone you have sex with, okay ... but is that all? Or, literally, someone you love? An emotional relationship?
But I don't love Jake anymore, if I ever really did.
And I had boyfriends before Tom. He had girlfriends before me. Why can't we just start over, move on?
The thought of moving on brought to Nicole's mind an old soul song. A woman singing about a train. A train she was going to take to be with her lover.
Lover. Sex, yes, but something more. Something worse. What?
"A midnight train ... going back to find..."
Nicole realized that her interludes with Jake, even when they had just involved conversation, had been like intermissions from everything else in her life. Maybe that's what had enhanced the sex, when it did finally happen. When in bed with Tom in recent years, Nicole had always felt the weight of parenting, finances, housekeeping, and so on.
All that stuff was in bed with us.
In bed with Jake, she'd been in a different world. A simple, uncluttered little world consisting of Jake and her. A world where she was young again and light as a feather.
No wonder the orgasms had sent her soaring. Yet it was the pillow talk, after the climaxes, that she'd enjoyed just as much. Even the silent, motionless act of falling asleep with Jake had seemed extraordinary.
We shared own little world. That's what it really means to be lovers, doesn't it? To share a little world, in which nothing else matters. That's the ultimate form of intimacy, isn't it?
The song came to mind again. Gladys Knight, singing about a midnight train to Georgia. A train her lover was taking. A train Gladys also was going to take, in order to be with him.
"I'd rather live in his world / than be without him, in mine."
That's what Gladys chose. I got on a train, too, but not to be with Tom. No, I was the one leaving. And not for Georgia—not for home. No, it was home I was leaving.
If I'd wanted to leave for any other place, to change up my life in any other way, maybe I could have done it with Tom. Maybe he could have come along. Maybe it could have been us, together, "going back to find / a simpler place in time."
But I never gave him that chance, that opportunity that Gladys had. I took a train to a place Tom couldn't follow. A train to a world with another man.
Nicole looked again at the quiz.
"Since we were married, you've been my only lover."
Tom didn't always do as much as he could to keep our world simple, to keep it safe, to keep it intimate ... he's admitted all that ... but he tried harder than me. And he never left our world, not even as it was diminishing.
Nicole lowered her pen to the third statement and circled "true."
4. "You never would have told me."
Never would have told Tom about ... what?
About the aff—about him. About Jake.
It was another hard punch to the gut. Nicole felt like she was coughing—no, choking—on something. Perhaps it was the irony of her situation.
Here I am in this room, with all these legal papers, praying for an escape ... but I started this. I filed for divorce first. I filed first...
Shaking her head in regret, Nicole recalled how it had happened.
"Just do it," Sheila said. "If you don't just file, if you warn him first and try to explain, he'll say something and you'll chicken out. It happened to me, with Bob."
"I won't chicken out," Nicole replied. "I've made up my mind. It's just a matter of, you know, courtesy maybe? To not, like, blindside him?"
"Oh yeah? You know what happened to Cindy? She mentioned divorce to Harry, thought they could handle it amicably, but he went and filed first, got a real shark for a lawyer. She was on her heels the rest of the way. Don't give Tom the upper hand. Take control."
Control, Nicole thought. Taking control of her life, that was what this was all about, right? Maybe Sheila had a point.
"I guess ... still, don't you think I owe him an explanation?"
"Later, honey, maybe. They'll be time. Besides, what's to explain?"
Now Sheila definitely had a point—more so than she knew, because Sheila did not know about Jake. More importantly, neither did Tom. Nicole wanted to keep it that way, at least for now.
After all, why hurt him? Someday he'd see Jake and her together, and he'd think they had met post-divorce. That might still hurt him, but not as much as knowing she'd been cuckolding him during their marriage.
"Just do it," Sheila said again.
Three weeks later, Tom was served with divorce papers.
Nicole read the fourth statement again.
"You never would have told me."
Never would have? I never did tell him, that much is true.
Recently, Dr. Silver had asked Nicole about the manner of her separation from Tom. The therapist had seemed to doubt Nicole's explanation of why she'd handled it the way she had.
Surprising Tom with the divorce papers, then not admitting to an affair when he confronted me, so as not to hurt him—that was bullshit, wasn't it? Dr. Silver was pretty close to telling me so last week, I think. She knows ... and I know, now ... I didn't want to tell Tom that I'd found someone else because I was ashamed. I didn't want him to know, or the world to know, that I'd been cheating.
After Nicole started the divorce, she rented an apartment and moved. Jake had offered to take her in, but she'd declined. "Let's wait until we can fully commit to each other," she'd said, smiling and playing with her ring finger suggestively.
But what I was really thinking, or at least feeling, was that nagging shame. It was about appearances. I didn't want Tom, the kids, or anyone else to see me as a whore who was shacking up with a new guy before the divorce was even final. Plus, Tom might have figured out that the guy wasn't so new.
Despite having her own apartment, Nicole never entertained Jake there. She continued to be discreet with him. Whenever she had to speak with Tom, who was begging her to come home, she continued to deny that there was, or had ever been, "someone else."
I kept telling myself I had nothing to feel guilty about. Deep down, maybe I did feel guilty, but it was the shame thing again. Guilty or not, I should have just been honest with Tom, but I put my self-image, and public image, ahead of everything else.
Not long after Nicole left Tom, however, her relationship with Jake began to falter. One of the turning points, she realized in retrospect, was the "big conversation" they'd had about the future. Would they keep their jobs or look for others, perhaps out of town—maybe somewhere closer to Jake's sister, a widow who could use his help with her kids?
But what then to do about Nicole's kids, and her ailing parents? Would Jake and Nicole start their own family? How much money would they need to buy a house? That led back to the question about jobs...
We'd talked about the future, before, but it was all about dreams. When reality hit, it hit hard. Suddenly, the grass on the other side—the side over to which I'd crossed—didn't seem so greener.
Still, Jake was a great guy. He kept treating her well, especially in the bedroom. There was one long night when he made her come five times—so far as she could remember, a personal record for her.
But the sex started to lose its luster too. Maybe because I was beginning to feel crowded in bed again. All these issues were starting to clutter up this simple little world to which I'd fled.
And that long night ... by the fifth time, everything felt off. I was just sore. I've never wanted to have that many orgasms in one go; I've always been good with two, even one!
In letting Jake work me over so much, it was like I was trying to make up for something else that was lacking; that magic that I felt with him before the divorce started.
Maybe the magic I'd had with Tom, once, too.
Indeed, as Nicole's relationship with Jake cooled, she began to miss Tom. Seeing him talking to another woman one day, she was surprised to find herself feeling jealous. The kids hadn't chosen a side, but she could tell that she might never mean as much to them on her own as she had living with them as Tom's wife.
Just a few months after moving out, Nicole began to feel that she'd made a mistake. Soon thereafter, she broke up with Jake. He took it hard, but he admitted that he'd sensed a change in her that he didn't know how to deal with. After their parting, he sent her a note, saying he was moving away, and that he wished her well.
Breaking out of the reverie, Nicole looked at the quiz.
"You never would have told me."
Jake and I were always honest with each other. Even when it hurt. And even when I hurt him by leaving him, I did it as gently, as respectfully as I could. With full disclosure. But with Tom...
Nicole found herself thinking of another old soul song. A song performed by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin. A song about respect.
"R-E-S-P-E-C-T / better know what it means to me"
When I denied to Tom, all those times, that I'd been having an affair, it wasn't just that I wanted to maintain my self-respect and other people's respect, was it? No.
I'd lost respect for Tom.
Long before the separation, in fact. That's part of what made it possible for me to cheat on him. Part of what made it possible for me to blindside him with the divorce. Part of what made it possible for me to be dishonest and evasive about my motives.
The statement on the quiz wasn't about what had happened, however. It was hypothetical. What exactly did it mean?
Never would have told?
Never would have ... oh. In trying to get Tom back. After it ended with Jake.
If Tom hadn't found out about Jake, would I have been respectful enough, honest enough, to tell him about it? Or would I have buried my guilt for the sake of avoiding shame? Would I have kept the affair a secret, ignoring Tom's right to know, so as not to jeopardize his reacceptance of me?
"You never would have told me."
"True," Nicole answered, with a circle.
5. "Your name is Nicole."
It was the most obviously true statement in the set, but the words "true" and "false" were not written next to it. For those reasons, its purpose was the most inscrutable. Hoping to clear her mind, Nicole rose from her chair, went to the window, and looked out. She saw buildings, streets, and beyond them, a park.
Of all the parks ... that one?
As if looking through a zooming telephoto lens, Nicole felt she was being propelled towards the park in the distance. A memory was carrying her there. Closing her eyes, she fell into the scene.
She arrived at the park early, not wanting to chance any possible delay that could cause her to miss Tom. She'd left a message for him, telling him she'd be here today and imploring him to join her. She sat on a bench, surrounded by roses in bloom.
Tom had been resisting the divorce. Nicole was sure he still loved her, still wanted her. Of course he would let her move back. It would be rough for a while, maybe, but the family would be reunited, and someday this whole drama would seem distant and silly.
She spread her jacket and purse across the bench, claiming it against any who might try to share it with her. This was her bench, today. Forever after, it would be hers and Tom's bench. They would come to this rose garden every spring, sit on this bench, and show the world that they were still together.
When Tom arrived, she wasn't sure what to do. Should she rise and hug him? Shake his hand? While she debated, Tom sat down, not quite next to her.
"Tom," she said, "I'll get right to it. I miss you. I've thought things over. I want to give our marriage another chance."
Tom turned his head and scanned the rose garden. Nicole waited for his reply. He seemed to be wrestling over what to say—or perhaps, whether to say anything. She reached over and placed her hand on his thigh.
"Tom ... I'm ready to come home."
Again, he turned his head. She tried to read his expression. He shifted his legs, causing her to withdraw her hand. When he spoke, it was as if from far away.
"Your message hinted ... I thought maybe that's what you had to say. I have to admit, I kind of hoped that's why you invited me here. Even though..."
His voice broke. He took a deep breath.
Again, he stopped. He seemed on the verge of breaking down. She wasn't sure if she should say something, or let him work through it. Suddenly, turning towards her, he spoke again.
"I just have to ask you something. One more time. Is there someone else?"
She hadn't expected that question, but having been asked it several times before, she had a practiced answer. Moreover, that answer was now true. There wasn't someone else; not any more.
"No, honey," she said. "No one else."
Tom looked down and started to cry. Her first thought was that he was shedding tears of joy. But then she saw that his fists were clenched. He looked at her, eyes burning, and spoke in a stern voice.
"That's the last time I'm going to listen to you lie to me," he said, rising. "Don't come near the house, except to pick up or drop off the kids-and even then, I don't want to see you."
Shocked, she started to rise, but he held out his hand and waved her off. He took two steps away from the bench, then turned, his expression changing from anger to pain.
"Oh," he said softly, "you can stop sneaking around with what's-his-name, 'Jake, ' trying to keep it secret. Turns out, a lot of people already know, or suspect. I was just..."
Wincing, he gathered himself, looked around the garden, then finished.
"Just the last. Better late than never, though. If you'd come to me like this sooner, before I found out..."
Nicole was stunned. Tom knew! He knew about Jake!
Somehow, he'd found out. He'd given her one last chance to admit to the affair, but she'd lied again. Well, not technically lied—the affair was, in fact over—but Tom didn't seem to know, and that made her answer misleading.
It was time to come clean. Time to admit to the affair, explain it as best she could, apologize, and beg for forgiveness. But when Nicole opened her mouth to speak, no words—true or false—came out. She found herself unable to even shout Tom's name, to call him back, as he walked away.
Apparently, Tom hadn't discovered Jake—he'd been tipped off. That meant someone else knew; many people, Tom had hinted. Was the public shame that Nicole had been trying to avoid now inescapable?
Oh well, she thought, if she could get her marriage back, she would pay any price. The next day, she told Evelyn, her lawyer, to stop the proceedings. Surely, calling off the divorce would prove to Tom that she was repentant and serious about reconciling.