You wouldn't think that something as small and inexpensive as a postage stamp could fuck up a marriage, but one of them, or rather the lack of one of them, did just that.
I wasn't supposed to be there. There had been an accident at work. Joe Bivens hadn't been paying attention and as a result the turret lathe he had been operating took the little finger off of his left hand and I was elected to take him to the hospital emergency rooms. Once they had Joe in one of the treatment rooms I gave them my cell phone number so they could call me when he was ready to leave and I left. I decided to go home and have lunch while I waited for the call.
My wife Wendy was at work so I was home alone when the mail came. There were a couple of flyers, the water bill and an envelope with the stamped message from the Post Office on it saying that it could not be delivered without a postage stamp. I didn't recognize the addressee, but it did have our mailing label on the upper left hand corner of the envelope. Wondering just who Brandon Winters was made me just curious enough to open the envelope.
There have been times since then that I've wished that I hadn't, but then I'd tell myself it was better to find out sooner rather than later. What I read stunned me.
"My dearest Bran,
We have only been seeing each other for a month now and so far it has been the best thirty days of my life. You make me so fucking happy. Whenever I see your face my heart lights up and my tummy gets not just butterflies, but it feels like planes, birds and shooting stars are flying around inside me as well. Every time I look into your eyes I lose myself completely.
I'm always thinking about you 24/7. I swear that I've never been this happy with anyone else in my lift. You tore all my pain away and you get my mind off things when I am at my lowest. I've told you all my flaws and yet you still see me as perfect. You make me feel as if I'm actually worth something.
You are the light of my life, the other half of my heart and the peace in my mind. I love your eyes and I could just stare into them for days. I can't wait until we have our three day weekend together. I'll be a basket case until it gets here.
I want to spend the rest of my life with you and never let you go. You can't even comprehend how much I care for you. Our daily phone conversations and our weekly long lunches at the motel (tee hee) are barely enough to keep me going.
I love you so much.
Your baby girl
I sat there holding that letter in my hand stunned beyond belief. At first there was confusion at some of her words. "You tore my pain away." What pain? The last thirty days the best of her life? She was either lying through her teeth to this Brandon guy or she was more accomplished at acting than anyone in Hollywood or on the New York stage. I couldn't believe that the last seven years were all an act on Wendy's part. They had been the happiest of my life. The two of us had been happier than two pigs in a large mud puddle.
It couldn't have been an act on her part. It just couldn't have been. And yet her own words kept leaping up at me from the page. She had been meeting him at motels for long lunches? Why? I'd seen no signs that she was unhappy or dissatisfied with me. No lack of affection at all.
As I stared at the pages in my hand I did know one thing however. The three day weekend she couldn't wait for? She was not going to enjoy it at all. At least not if I could help it. Supposedly her best friend Joyce had won a three day spa visit for two and she and Wendy were going to go and be pampered. Three days of beauty treatments, massages, mud packs, mud baths or the like. I wondered if Joyce had a lover on the side also or if she was just going to cover for Wendy. No matter. I would probably be having a talk with Harry before that weekend occurred.
The hardest part for me would be behaving normally around Wendy. I couldn't let her know I had the letter because she would without a doubt call Winters and let him know I was onto them and I couldn't have that. I didn't want Winters to know I'd be coming for him. First order of business was for me to get more information and I knew just who to go to for it.
I showed up at Carl's Chop House ten minutes before Joyce got off work at four and took a seat in her section. When she showed up with her pad and pen and asked what I'd be having I said:
"Coffee and a few minutes of your time when you get off work. I have some information that could have an impact on your marriage to Harry and I would like to discuss it with you before talking to Harry."
She left without a word and then came back with my coffee. She set it down in front of me without a word and left. As I sipped my coffee I wondered what Joyce was going to do. Would she join me once she was off the clock or would she skate out the back door and call Wendy to ask her what was up? It was a gamble on my part, but I was betting that she would be more worried about her own marriage than about what Wendy might know.
I think I won that bet. I had no way of knowing if she had gotten in touch with Wendy between the time I ordered my coffee and she sat down with me at one minute after four, but I'm pretty sure that she didn't. She would be afraid to do anything before knowing what I was going to talk about. At least that was my expectation.
Joyce sat down across from me and said, "Okay Frank; what's going on here?"
"A question for you Joyce and an honest answer would be in your best interest. Are you cheating on Harry?"
"Hell no I'm not cheating on Harry. Why would you even think such a thing?"
"I just wondered if you would also be spending time with a lover on your spa weekend."
She sat there silent for a few seconds and then said, "I told her she was fucking up and warned her that she would get caught sooner or later. How did you find out?"
"She told me."
"She told you? She confessed?"
"No. What she did was forget to put a stamp on a letter."
I handed Joyce the letter with the envelope inside and waited while she read it. When she was done she handed it back to me and as I took it from her I said:
"My first inclination was to go to Harry and tell him that we were both married to cheating whores, but then I decided to keep my mouth shut and talk to you instead. You tell me everything you know and I keep Harry out of it."
"I'm not cheating on Harry."
"Maybe not, but after he reads this letter and knows what Wendy is doing and that you are covering for her you think he won't start wondering about you and what you might be doing on those three days? You want him to start being suspicious of what you might be doing when he isn't around?"
"Why would you do that to me Frank? I've never done anything to you."
"Sure you have Joyce. You are helping my wife fuck over me. You are giving her cover. You know what she is doing. You just said it yourself. You told her she was fucking up so you know what she is doing and you are helping her and if that isn't doing something to me I don't know what is. What you need to do right now is figure out what is most important to you. Your friendship with Wendy or a trouble free marriage."
"I want both Frank. How about a deal? I'll tell you all you want to know, but you never let Wendy know that it came from me. That way we can stay friends regardless of what happens with the two of you. And no, I'm not stabbing her in the back. You already know so all I'm doing is giving you background. There is one thing that needs to be straight between us Frank. Wendy is my best friend and I've known her since the second grade. I've only known you since you met her in college so expecting me to come to you and let you know she is being bad is totally unrealistic on your part.
"Besides, she wasn't hurting you. She loves you and you know she does. This thing with Brandon is a fling; a silly infatuation that is bound to die in a short time. Brandon isn't half the man you are and Wendy knows it."
"If she knows it then why in the hell this" I asked as I held up the letter.
"It goes back to the ninth grade. Brandon Winters was everybody's everything. All State as a wide receiver on the football team. All City and All State as a forward on the basketball team. Star shortstop on the baseball team and a straight A student. Great looking and his daddy owned four car dealerships and so the family was wealthy as all get out. Wendy was infatuated with Brandon. She wanted to be his girl n the worst way, but he never seemed to notice her.
"She made sure to go to places where she knew he would be just to put herself in front of him so he would have to notice her. It didn't matter what she did Brandon never gave her a tumble. In the eleventh grade she even asked him to the annual Sadie Hawkin's Day dance. He blew her off telling her he would be out of town. The night of the dance he showed up with Cindy Reynolds, but that still didn't stop her from trying to get his attention.
"All through high school she tried and tried and kept trying to no avail. Then graduation came and he went back east to some big school and life moved on. Wendy eventually met you. She loves you Frank. Don't ever doubt that. I can't even remember how many times she has told me how happy she ha been since she met you."
"How can I believe that Joyce? How can I possibly believe that after reading this letter? How can she possibly care for me as much as you say she does when she is stabbing me in the back with this Brandon guy?"
"I don't know how to explain it frank, but it is some kind of ego thing, wish fulfillment, affirmation of self-worth or something like that. I really don't know. All I know is that about four months ago Wendy was shopping at Kohl's and Brandon was there, saw her and came up to her and said hi. He told her he had just moved back to town and maybe over lunch she could fill him in on what happened to our old classmates and stuff like that. They had lunch and exchanged phone numbers because he said he was going to try and set up a reunion like party.
"He called her two days later and asked her if she would have a drink with him after work so they could talk about the party. She met him and they talked about where to have it, what kind of party it would be and the like. He called her a couple of more times and they talked on the phone about this party of his and then one day he asked her to meet him for lunch. Over lunch he confessed that there wasn't any party and it was just a way he could see her and talk to her.
"Try to image how she was feeling Frank. The guy she had chased after for four years of high school was now wanting to get together with her. It fed something inside of her. The more he asked to see her the more she felt like ... Oh hell; I don't know. Anyway, she started having lunch with him and meeting for drinks after work with him and all the time he was coming on to her. After four years of chasing him he was now chasing her. I honestly doubt that he would have gotten anywhere with Wendy if you hadn't had to fly back to Michigan to settle your father's estate."
"What in the hell did my father's estate have to do with anything?"
"You were gone four days Frank and while you were gone Brandon put a full court press on Wendy. She had dinner and drinks with him every night you were gone and they went drinking and dancing on two of those nights. She never intended it to go anywhere Frank; honestly she didn't, but on the first night they went for dinner, drinking and dancing something happened. It just happened and Wendy couldn't even explain it to me. They were having a good time and suddenly they were in bed together. She wasn't drunk or drugged; it just happened.
"She called me the next day crying. She hadn't meant to do it, but she had cheated on you and she felt guilty as hell. She wanted my advice. Should she call you and confess over the phone or wait for you to come home and do it face to face. I advised her to do neither. It would only hurt you. I told her that it was a one time regrettable mistake and what you didn't know wouldn't hurt you. I told her to put it behind her and then do her absolute best to be the best wife for you that she could be.
"She only went out with him on the fourth night to tell him to leave her be because she was a happily married woman. When she told him that she had to quit seeing him he asked her how she could do it. He told her that they were meant for each other and she asked if that was true why had he ignored her for their four years of high school. He told her the reason was because he knew if he got together with her he would never be able to let her go. He had his life all laid out and a wife would have held him back. He had to fight his desire for her so he could go off and be the big success he wanted to be in the NFL. He told her that he knew that once he had achieved his goal they would find each other because they were meant to be. Wendy told me that she knew it was all bullshit, but somehow they ended up back in bed together.
"She couldn't explain it to me because she said she couldn't understand it herself. She told me that it wasn't the sex because you were a much better lover than Brandon. In fact she played you up so much that if I wasn't ass end over teakettle in love with Harry I'd have been tempted to take a shot at you myself. What I think happened is that she spent so much time and effort on him in high school that now he was with her she just couldn't walk away from him. His being with her somehow justified all the effort she put in in trying to get him to notice her."
"That shit sounds all too deep for me. For me it is as clear as day. She stabbed me in the back by fucking another man. I might have – just might have – gotten by the one night, but that trip to Michigan was four months ago and she is still seeing the cocksucker. Meeting him in motels for long lunches and setting up three day weekends with the asshole. How did you get sucked in to being a part of the Fuck Over Frank club?"
"I'm not part of any club like that."
"Of course you are. You are setting up a three day weekend for them."
"I didn't set up anything for them. The spa visit is legitimate and I invited Wendy to go along with me. I had no idea she intended to use the weekend to meet Brandon until day before yesterday. That's when she told me that Brandon had made reservations at a hotel close to the spa. For what it is worth Frank I did tell her that she is being stupid and I also told her that I wouldn't lie for her if it came to that. She told me that she was going to use the weekend to end things with him."
"That just doesn't jibe with what she wrote in the letter to him."
"All that is Frank is her telling him what he wants to hear. It is just Wendy being Wendy. You know how compassionate she is. Build him up so she can let him down easy. Make him feel good so he won't feel so crushed when she tells him she has to go back to being a good wife for you. And she is that Frank. She is and always has been a good wife to you. Even with this silly fling with Brandon going on she has never shorted you when it came to showing love and affection and though she has never mentioned it to me I'd be willing to bet she hasn't shorted you sexually either. She is yours Frank and both Wendy and I know it even if you may doubt it. What are you going to do?"
"I don't know Joyce. I have a lot to think about and I just don't know. It might help the process if you don't let her know that I'm aware of what is going on. I'm not sure that the confrontation that would take place if she knew that I knew is something that we could survive."
"I know Wendy Frank and I know that the two of you can have a long and happy life if you can find someway to get past this."
"I can't promise anything like that Joyce. I know me pretty well and I'm not at all sure that I want to get past it even if I could.
I do indeed know myself pretty well and one of the things I know about me is that I won't put up with being fucked with. I found that out in the eighth grade. Even though a growth spurt in the early years of high school that brought me up to six feet I'd been small for my age in elementary and middle school. As a result I got picked on a lot by guys that were bigger.
The first time it happened was around the third or fourth grade and I went home crying. My mom asked me what was wrong and I told her. Then she asked me what I had done to the kid that beat on me and I told her that I'd done nothing to him since he was bigger than me. Then she told me that he would keep on picking on me because he knew I'd let him get away with it.
"You don't back down from bullies Frankie; you go after them. You let them know that if they mess with you they will have to pay for the privilege with pain. The easiest way to put a stop to it Frankie is to let them know that you will not settle for letting them use you as a punching bag. It doesn't matter if you win or lose baby; what matters most is that you fight back.
"You do not give anyone a free ride.
"The bullies will see that and they will leave you alone. Most will anyway although there will always be one or two stupid ones who are too dumb to learn. Just make sure you make them pay baby. Remember honey; no one, absolutely no one gets s free ride."
I listened to mom and I took what she said to heart and the next time a bigger kid came after me he got a bloody nose for his trouble. I got a black eye and a split lip out of it, but had the satisfaction of seeing his blood on the front of his shirt. Mom was right. After a couple of more scraps the bullies decided that it wasn't worth the effort to fuck with me.
It wasn't until the eighth grade that I found out how far I was willing to go if someone bigger than me fucked with me. There was a kid in my class named Elmore and he wasn't any bigger than me, but he liked to fuck with kids because he had a big brother who was in the eleventh grade and if you did anything to Elmore his brother Marcus would come down on you like a ton of bricks. Marcus was big and bad. Six foot four and over two hundred pounds and you just did not mess with his little brother. Elmore took plenty of advantage of that fact. Secure in the knowledge that everyone knew Marcus would fall on anyone who messed with him Elmore screwed with anyone he felt like screwing with. Eventually it was my turn.
Elmore's locker was right next to mine and one day between classes I was at my locker changing books when Elmore came up to me and pushed me saying:
"Out of my way twerp."
I pushed him back so hard that he fell on his ass. He got up and came to me and poked a finger in my chest, but before he could say anything I grabbed his hand, bent his finger back and shoved him away from me so hard that he fell on his ass a second time. Several other kids saw what happened and they laughed at him. I got the book I needed for my next class and walked away leaving a crying Elmore sitting on the floor.
That afternoon I was again at my locker when a hand grabbed my shoulder and spun me around. It was Marcus and standing behind him was a smirk on his face was Elmore.
"You hurt my brother asshole" and he punched me so hard in my stomach that I doubled over and puked on the floor. "Let that be a lesson asshole; leave my brother alone."
He and Elmore walked away. It took a minute or two, but I finally got myself together and went to the boy's lavatory and got some paper towels to clean up my mess.
On my way home I fumed over what happened. I didn't get a chance to make him pay a price however minor it might have been and he had gotten a free ride. Realistically I knew that fighting back would have been a total waste of time and energy as he had a good five or six inches and sixty or seventy pounds on me, but he got a free ride and that galled me. The more I thought about it the more upset I got over it.
He had gotten a free ride!
I couldn't have that. I had to do something, but what? It must have come to me while I slept because when I got up in the morning I knew exactly what I was going to do. That afternoon when Marcus was going into his locker I came up behind him with a baseball bat and smacked him in the head with it. Not a full swing like I was going for a pitch, but a downward chopping strike and Marcus went to his knees. I smacked him on the side of his head again and he fell to the floor. I kicked his legs apart and used the bat on his crotch. Only once, but hard. I bent down, grabbed a handful of his hair and pulled his head up until it was only inches from my mouth and then said:
"You might be bigger than me asshole, but you aren't anywhere near as mean. You ever fuck with me again you better grow eyes in the back of your head or you won't see me coming and the next time I'll use the bat to take your head clean off of your shoulders,"
I looked up and saw Elmore standing there staring at me open mouthed and wide eyed. I looked him in the eye and said:
"Start running motherfucker; you're next!"
I stood up and Elmore took off running. As I watched him go I heard clapping and I looked around and saw a dozen other students who had seen what happened. I heard things like "Way to go dude" and "About time someone straightened out those cocksuckers."
Word got around that it didn't pay to fuck with Frank and I was never bothered by Marcus again and every time Elmore saw me coming his way he turned around and hurried off in another direction.
So I did indeed know me pretty well and I knew that I wouldn't let myself be fucked over or fucked with and Brandon Winters was about to find that out the hard way.
I had Brandon's address courtesy of Wendy's forgetting to put a stamp on the envelope and I drove over to check out the area. It was an apartment complex and Brandon's unit was on the first floor. There wasn't much in the way of cover around and it was too open. Also there was too much of a chance that there would be witnesses around.
I looked at my watch as saw that it was seven-thirty which was a half hour later than I usually got home so I called the house and Wendy answered. I told her I was running late and would be home in about a half an hour. She told me that she would have dinner waiting.