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Awakenings Ch. 02

Tricia, Jodie and Jennifer Rawlins
I was up at 6:00 the next morning. Amazingly, I'd slept through the night. Feeling somewhat revitalized, I dressed, stopped at Lyle's Cafe for a quick breakfast and went into work.

I was in my office at 7:15. As soon as I sat down at my desk, I took out my cell phone and turned it on. It was time to reopen communication with the world. I had six messages. The first three were from Jeanne. They were all pleas to call her so that we could talk some more. I deleted them.

The fourth message was from Tricia, my oldest daughter. "Dad, mom just called me. She was frantic. She said that you left her and she's sure you're going to divorce her. Dad, that can't be true. You love mom. I know you do. You could never divorce her. Please call me."

The next call was from Jodie, my youngest daughter. "Daddy, Tricia called me and told me that you left mom. I called mom. She's distraught. I think she's having a nervous breakdown. Please call us. You have to talk to mom. You have to try to work this out."

The last call was again from Jeanne. It was another plea for me to call her.

I set my cell phone down. I knew that I had to call my daughters, but I wasn't certain how much I wanted to tell them. Jeanne was responsible for this mess. It was up to her to explain the situation to our daughters.

Deciding that my best course of action was to call Jeanne before I called Tricia and Jodie, I picked up my desk telephone and dialed Jeanne's cell phone. It was 7:30. I knew she'd be up getting ready for work.

After four rings Jeanne answered. "Michael, thank you for calling."

"Hello, Jeanne."

Clearly uneasy, Jeanne quietly answered, "Hello, Michael."

"Jeanne, Tricia and Jodie both called last night."

There was a long pause. Finally, Jeanne said, "Yes I'm sure they did. What did they tell you?"

"I haven't talked to them yet. As you know, I had my cell phone off last night. They both left messages."

"Are you going to call them?"

"Of course, they're our daughters. They're concerned and they deserve an explanation."

"What are you going to tell them?"

"I'm not going to tell them anything. Jeanne you created this mess. You're going to call them and explain the situation."

"I did call them last night."

"Yes, but you only told them that I left you. You didn't explain why."

"Michael, that's not true. I told them everything."

"Nonsense, you wouldn't dare tell them the truth."

Jeanne sighed. "Michael, why are you creating such a fuss? You're making a mountain out of a molehill. This is just something I have to do. Once it's over I'll be the most loving wife you've ever imagined. I'll spend years expressing my gratitude."

"Jeanne, do you remember yesterday when I asked you the question that made you swear at me and hang up the telephone."

"Yes, Michael, I really am sorry I did that."

"I'm going to ask that question again."

"No, Michael, please don't"

"Jeanne, if our marriage is going to have any chance to survive, I have to ask it and you have to give me an honest answer."

Resigned, Jeanne said, "Okay."

"How would you feel if you walked into the Kennsington Grill and saw me sitting at a table with another woman and I was holding her hand?"

Jeanne started crying.

I waited for a moment and then I said, "Jeanne, answer the question."

After a few seconds Jeanne screamed, "Damn it Michael, I'd feel awful. I'd feel absolutely devastated."

"And that's how I feel right now."

There was a moment of silence and then Jeanne quietly added, "But I shouldn't feel that way."

There was more silence. I waited. Finally Jeanne said, "Micheal, I'm sorry. I was stupid. I did a lousy job of preparing you for this. I thoughtlessly dumped it on you all at once and that was unforgivable. I should have made sure that you felt loved and desired before I broached this with you and then I should have waited. I should have given you some time to get used to the idea. It all happened so fast. I was excited. I stupidly ignored your feelings."

"Jeanne, what are you talking about?"

"Michael, what I did with Derek was just sex. It had nothing to do with love. You have to believe me, you're the only man I'll ever love."

"Yeah, well last night this Derek guy got a whole lot more sex than the man you love has gotten in a very long time."

"I know, Michael, and I'm ashamed about that."

"Are you, Jeanne? I'm a bald headed, overweight, old man that other women would never find attractive. How could you possibly be interested in sex with me?"

"Damn it, Michael, I'm sorry I said that. I'll regret those words for the rest of my life."

"But you did say them."

"Yes I did, but I didn't mean them. Michael, you cornered me and I lashed out at you. The truth is, I'm terrified that another woman might steal you away from me. You're a smart, strong willed, affluent man who also happens to be kind and loving. There are a slew of good looking divorced women our age who would love to get their hooks into you. If you want to get laid, all you have to do is start sending signals that you're available."

"Like you did with your stud."

"Yes, like I did with Derek. That's true, Michael, but there's a difference. Derek doesn't want to steal me from you. He just wants to have sex with me. Those women want you, they want all of you."

"But you gave Derek something that you weren't giving to me."

"Yes, I did do that and I regret it. Michael, if you'll just give me the opportunity, I'll spend the rest of my life making that up to you."

I didn't respond. I didn't know what to say. While part of me wanted to believe Jeanne, another part of me was writing this off as more bullshit.

Jeanne waited. After a few seconds she said, "Michael, say something, please say anything."

"I don't know what to say."

"Michael, have I destroyed our marriage?"

"I don't know; it's possible."

"Please don't say that. There has to be a way."

"Jeanne, you still haven't told me that you're going to stop seeing Fischer."

"Do I have to? Michael, you have to believe me, it really is just sex."

"Sex that I've been denied."

"That will change, I promise."

"You mean that when you're not partying with your stud, you'll favor me with an occasional mercy fuck."

"A mercy fuck? Of course not. They won't be mercy fucks and they won't be occasional either."

"Jeanne, you haven't condescended to have sex with me for several months. Why should I believe that you suddenly find me desirable?"

"Michael, you're not hearing me. My indifference to sex had nothing to do with you. It was about my own insecurity. I felt old and ugly."

"You called me an overweight, bald headed old man who could never attract another woman."

"God dammit, Micheal, I didn't mean that!"

"You said it!" I sighed. "And I can't stop hearing you say it and I can't stop seeing Fischer kissing you on our front lawn."

"Michael, I screwed up. I screwed up badly. I made a mistake. It was a big mistake. We all make mistakes. You have to forgive me."

"Are you going continue seeing Fischer?"

There was a long pause. Finally Jeanne said, "No, of course not. I really don't want to lose you over this."

"But you'd like to keep seeing him."

"Michael, what do you want me to tell you? Do you want me to lie?"

"No, but that last statement makes me believe that I can never again trust you."

"Michael, I promise I'll stop seeing him. As soon as we're finished talking I'll call him and tell him that."

"And then you're going to call Jodie and Tricia and explain what's happened."

"They already know about everything."

"I don't believe you."

"Michael, call them."

"They really know?"

"Call them, Michael."

"All right."

"Michael, will you please call me after you talk to them?"

Disconcerted by the discovery that my girls might actually know what Jeanne was doing, I said, "Yeah, sure, of course I will."

"I have a busy morning. Will you call me after lunch?"

"Sure, right after lunch."

"Michael, this doesn't have to be the end of us. Talk to the girls, they'll help you understand."

"I will." I was feeling morose. My voice reflected my mood.

Jeanne said, "Michael, I love you."

"Do you, Jeanne, do you really?"

"Yes, Michael, I really do."

"Right now I find that hard to believe."

"Michael, call the girls, they'll explain everything."

"Okay, good bye, Jeanne."

"Good bye, Michael. I really do love you."

After ending the call I set my telephone back on its cradle, sat back in my chair and closed my eyes. I was confused. Jeanne seemed to be suggesting that the girls not only knew about her transgression with Derek, they approved of it. I didn't understand. How was that possible?

As I sat at my desk thinking, my cell phone rang. I picked it up. The caller ID said it was Tricia.

I pushed the button. "Hi, Tricia."

"Hi, daddy."

There was an awkward silence. Finally I asked, "Did mom call you?"

"Yes she did." Tricia paused. After a moment she said, "Daddy?"

I waited.

Suddenly there was another voice. "Daddy, I'm here too." It was Jodie. "Daddy, I don't understand. Why are you acting like this? Mom loves you, I know she does."

"I don't know, Jodie. Right now she's certainly not acting like she loves me." I told them about what happened when Fischer picked Jeanne up at the house.

Tricia said, "She told us about that, dad. She regrets doing it. Now she realizes that she needs to be more discreet."

"She needs to be more discreet?" The statement puzzled me.

Jodie said, "Of course, daddy, lots of people have fuck buddies, but almost everyone tries to be cautious about revealing it. Being indiscreet isn't cool."

"Are you telling me that the two of you have these," I paused for a moment and then I said, "You know, buddies."

"Yes daddy, we do."

"Tricia, you do too?"

"Yes, daddy, you know him. It's Randy Parkman, we've been getting together since the summer after we graduated from high school."

"Really?"

"Yes, we're good friends and we enjoy doing it with each other. It's just fun."

"Tricia, you're engaged. Does Paul know about Randy?"

"Of course he does. I love Paul. I would never lie to him."

"And he's okay with it?"

"Yes, daddy, Paul understands that I don't love Randy. It's just a little sex on the side."

"Does Jeanne know about Randy?"

Jodie said, "Mom's cool, we talk about this stuff all the time."

"Apparently I'm not cool."

"It's a little harder for a daughter to talk about sex with her dad."

While I realized that Jodie was right, I also now understood that my daughters had most likely been the source of Jeanne's desire to experiment with other men. Suddenly feeling totally demoralized, I said, "I have to get back to work. Thank you for talking to me about this."

Picking up the change in my mood, Jodie said, "Daddy, we need to talk about this some more. It's really not that big a deal."

"Jodie, I'm sorry. I can't do that right now. Maybe we can talk again later."

"When, daddy?"

"I don't know. I'm sorry, I really do have to go. Say hello to your mother for me." And then I ended the call and shut off my cell phone.

I sat back in my chair and closed my eyes. For the first time in twenty-seven years I felt like I was alone, all alone.

Two minutes later my desk telephone rang. I picked it up.

Ruth said, "Michael, your daughter Tricia is on line 2."

"Ruth, I can't talk to her right now. It appears that she and Jodie actually encouraged Jeanne to have this affair."

"Michael, I'm so sorry. I'll take care of it. I'll tell them you're in a meeting and can't be disturbed."

"Thank you, Ruth." I paused for a moment and then I said, "Ruth, I need a break from all of this. For the rest of the day I just want to be an accountant. I have several files that require my attention. I'd like to work on them without being disturbed by anyone."

"I'll take care of it, Michael. If there's a problem, I'll pass it to Jason."

Jason Ridner was a very able accountant. He'd been with me for eleven years. I knew that he was capable of handling any problems that might arise. "Thank you, Ruth, I appreciate this."

"Don't worry, Michael, Jason and I are both in your corner."

After I hung up my telephone I wondered just how much Jason knew. As I sat back in my chair I realized that he most likely knew everything. Jason, Ruth and I were not only coworkers we were also close friends. If Ruth knew I had a problem, she would have to tell Jason. That was all right with me. The support of two good friends would make it much easier for me to weather this crisis.

Ruth mounted an effective defense. I was left alone until the end of day.

At a quarter to five there was a knock on my door. "Hey, boss, it's me, Jason. Can we talk for a minute?"

Realizing that this conversation was inevitable, I said, "Sure, Jason, come on in."

My door opened. Jason stepped into my office but stopped just inside the doorway.

"Jason, please come in and sit down." I motioned towards the chair in front of my desk.

He smiled and sat down, but it was clear that he was still nervous.

"Jason, relax, we're friends. I assume you already know what's happened between Jeanne and me."

Nodding, Jason said, "Boss, I'm so sorry."

"Thank you, it's been difficult."

"I'm sure it has. Is there anything Barb and I can do to help you? If there is please tell us. I called Barb this afternoon and told her what happened. She's absolutely distraught. Boss, I think Barb may love you even more than she loves me."

Barb was Barbara Ridner, Jason's wife. She was a wonderful woman and totally devoted to Jason just as Jason was totally devoted to her. They had the kind of marriage that until the past two days I'd believed Jeanne and I had.

Oh and Barb did love me, but not anywhere near as much as she loved Jason. About a year after Jason started working for me he came to me and confessed that he and Barb had made some imprudent decisions regarding their credit cards. They had five cards maxed to the limit. The monthly payments were killing them. Jason was doubly ashamed because he was an accountant and felt he should have known better.

I resisted the temptation to lecture Jason. Instead I sat down with him and worked out a plan that would get them out of the mess they'd fallen into. I also financed the plan which allowed them to escape from the obscene interest payments they were being forced to make. Eighteen months later they were out of debt and Jason and Barb never forgot what I did for them. There wasn't any doubt in my mind that Barbara Ridner did love me.

I laughed. "Jason, Barb will never love anyone as much as she loves you."

Jason nodded. "Yeah boss, I know that; but she does care about you."

"And I know that."

"So will you come over to the house for dinner tonight? After dinner we can have a few drinks. If you're too tired or too spiffed to leave you can stay in our guest room. What do you say, boss? Barb is ready to put a pot roast in the oven."

"Jason, I can't tell you how much that invitation means to me, and if you offer it again in a week I'll happily take you up on it, but tonight I need to be able to think. Tonight it would be better if I stay at my motel and try to figure all of this out."

"You know that might be easier if you let your friends help you." Ruth was standing in the doorway to my office.

Nodding, I said, "Yeah, Ruth, you're probably right; but this is a problem that permeates to the core of my existence. The decisions that I make right now are going to have a dramatic impact on the rest of my life. I need to make those decisions by myself."

"Okay, boss, I understand. What do you want us to do?"

"Go home and have a wonderful evening."

Ruth looked at Jason. He nodded to her. She turned back to me and said, "We understand. We'll give you your space, but we need you to understand something too. We're your friends and we want to help you get through this. If you need us you have to promise to call. We don't care if it's three o'clock in the morning, we want you to call. Michael, you are not alone. Will you promise to call?"

"Yes, if I need you I'll call. I promise, but tonight I really do need to sort this out by myself."

Jason said, "We understand boss." He stood up and looked at me. I looked at him. He smiled. I smiled back. When he saw me smile he nodded and then he turned and walked out of my office. As he passed my secretary he took her arm and said, "Come on, Ruth, right now this is a battle he needs to fight on his own."

Ruth held Jason's arm and said, "Just a minute." She turned back to me. "Michael."

"Yes, Ruth?"

"Don't forget that the Montgomerys are coming in at 10:00 tomorrow morning."

Charles and Edith Montgomery were my two most important clients. Charles Montgomery's family started a trucking company in 1929. Montgomery Freight was now one of the largest shipping companies in the United States. Edith Montgomery was born Edith Chalmers. Her great grandfather, Benjamin Chalmers was a blacksmith who in 1921 realized that the emerging auto industry was desperately in need of precision metal parts. Chalmer's Tool and Die was now one of the largest automobile parts manufacturers in the world. Managing their financial interests alone was enough to keep my firm in black ink.

Charles and Edith were also friends. Jeanne and I had dined at their house and they had dined at ours. When their grandchildren were born we were present at the christenings. When our girls graduated from high school Charles and Edith attended the receptions. Our relationship was far more than just business.

If I had a meeting with the Montgomerys at ten in the morning, I would be there. Personal problems would have to move to the back burner. Nodding, I said, "Don't worry, Ruth, I'll be here."

Smiling, Ruth said, "I'll be here too. I know just how much the Montgomerys mean to this firm."

As she turned to leave, I said, "Thank you, Ruth, I appreciate that."

She stopped. "Boss, we all appreciate everything you've done for us." And then she disappeared out the door.

I spent the next two hours reviewing Charles and Edith Montgomery's files. When we met in the morning I wanted to be certain I was up to speed on their financial situation.

By seven o'clock I was confident that I understood their current status, so I closed their folders and locked them in my file cabinet. Once that was done I sat back and started thinking about my personal life. It was a mess. Jeanne was seeing another man and my daughters, the center of my universe, were encouraging her to do it. I felt like I'd been kicked in the gut.

I contemplated divorce. While it was an ugly prospect I was in an untenable situation. I was beginning to feel like I didn't have a choice. That thought alarmed me. My father taught me to believe that there was always a choice.

It was a warm August evening. I decided to take a walk. It felt good to get outside. I passed a sandwich shop. Realizing I was hungry I stopped and bought a roast beef and cheese sandwich. I sat on a bus bench while I ate it. When I was finished I started walking again.

Dusk came, I kept walking. The night lights came on and the cocktail lounges, restaurants and night clubs started filling.

I passed a small bar, The Cosmopolitan Lounge. A neon sign in the front window advertised jazz piano. Deciding that it looked appealing and a glass of scotch would taste good, I went inside.

There were seven people in the bar. A fifty something, slightly overweight, balding bartender appeared to be in charge. An older, reasonably fit black man with salt and pepper hair was playing the piano. Two couples, both in their thirties were seated at separate tables talking quietly and sipping cocktails. The seventh person was an extremely attractive, well dressed middle aged woman. She was seated at the bar.

I sat down three stools to her right. As soon as I was settled the bartender came over and said, "Welcome to the Cosmopolitan. My name is Jerry. What can I get you?"

"A double Chivas, two ice cubes and a glass of water on the side."

"You got it, buddy." Jerry turned and started working on my drink.

The woman three stools to my left said, "You aren't in to single malts?"

I shrugged. "While there are certainly some excellent single malts, there are also lots of bad ones. Just being a single malt doesn't make it a good whiskey. I happen to like Chivas. It's a nice smooth scotch. It may not be as prestigious as some of the fashionable single malts, but I enjoy it and that's all that matters to me."

"Dear me, an independent thinker. How absolutely exciting."

"I'm sorry, you initiated this conversation. Your sarcasm is neither welcome nor appreciated."

The woman turned so she was facing me. "I apologize. You're right, I asked you a question and you gave me an honest answer. My sarcasm was completely unwarranted."

"Apology accepted."

Jerry brought me my Chivas and the side of water. I took a sip of the scotch.

As I set my glass down on the bar the woman asked, "So what brings you into the Cosmopolitan tonight?"

I turned to her. "I'm sorry, you're a beautiful woman. I'm flattered that your even willing to acknowledge my existence, but I've had an awful week. I really don't have the energy to hook up with someone tonight."

"Now that's a question provoking statement if I've ever heard one."

"It wasn't meant to be, it's just the truth."

"Tonight I'm not trying to hook up with anyone either. I've had a hard week too, but you're an intriguing man and I do enjoy an interesting conversation."

Smiling, I said, "Okay, right now a little conversation would be good for me. Can I buy you a drink?"

"No, I have one and even if I didn't I wouldn't let you buy me one."

"Yeah, okay I get it; hey, I really don't have the energy for games tonight." I turned away from her.

"That wasn't a rejection. I don't happen to believe in letting men buy me drinks. If I decide to talk to you, I'll do it because I think you're nice or interesting or hopefully both. When I'm looking for a little intimate companionship, and that does occasionally occur, a man's not going to improve his position by buying me a drink. Sweetheart, a five dollar martini is not going to get you into my panties."

I had to admit that I found her honesty refreshing. I nodded to her, "Okay, I'm not offended."

"I'm sorry, I really am. I try to be honest, but sometimes I end up appearing insolent and rude."

"Yeah, well, we all have our problems."

"I get the feeling that you've had a very bad day. Would you like to tell me about it? Sometimes talking to a complete stranger can be quite helpful."

I stared at her. After a moment, I said, "If you wouldn't mind, I really would like to talk to you about it."

"I wouldn't mind at all, but before you start revealing your deepest personal secrets I think we should introduce ourselves." She grabbed her martini and moved over to the bar stool next to mine. After setting her drink on the bar she extended her hand and said, "I'm Jennifer Rawlins".

I shook her hand. "I'm pleased to meet you, Jennifer, I'm Michael Nolan."

Jennifer lifted her eyebrows. "Michael, not Mike?"

"You just introduced yourself as Jennifer rather than Jen or Jenny. I think I can raise the same question."

Jennifer smiled. "Touche, I like you, Michael Nolan. You know how to stand your ground."

Shaking my head, I said, "I wish that was true."

"Oh my, that was a telling remark if I've ever heard one."

I shrugged.

She said, "Okay. it's obvious you have something you need to get off your chest so let's get it done. I'm all ears."

I spent the next half hour telling her everything.

When I was finished Jennifer looked at me and said, "Damn, that reminds me of my own story."

"It does?"

"Michael, how old are you?"

"Forty-nine."

"And Jeanne?"

"She's forty-nine too."

"And how long did you say you've been married?"

"Twenty-seven years."

"How old are you're girls? I know you told me, but tell me again."

"Jodie is twenty-three. Tricia is twenty-four."

"I'm fifty-three. I've been divorced for eight years. I have a son, Tom who's now twenty-seven and a daughter, Marybeth who's twenty-six. When my ex husband divorced me, Tom was nineteen and Marybeth was eighteen."

"You say your ex husband divorced you, why?"

"I'm an administrative assistant for a local automobile dealership. He caught me in a motel room with one of the salesmen who works for the same dealership."

"You were cheating on him?"

"I certainly was."

"How long?"

"Three months, but that wasn't my first affair. There were two other guys before that."

"How long were those affairs?"

"Six or seven months; in both cases we eventually got bored with each other. You might say that both of those affairs died of natural causes."

"How did your husband finally figure it out? How did he catch you in the motel room?"

"I was a self centered bitch."

"That's a little harsh."

"That's what I was. For almost two years I regularly gave it up to another guy while I forgot about the man I loved."

"You mean you stopped having sex with your husband."

"It happened gradually, but by the time I was in the middle of my third affair that was about it. Richard, that's my ex husband was lucky if he got a mercy fuck once a month."

"Why? Didn't you like him?"

"No, I liked him, I loved him too. Hell, Richard Marks is the only man I'll ever love."

"So why did you cut him off?"

"That's not the full question. I didn't just cut Richard off, I did it while I was regularly giving it up to another man."

"You almost sound proud of that."

Jennifer shook her head. "No I'm not proud of it. I'm ashamed of it."

"So why did you do it?"

"That's the million dollar question."

"Do you know the answer?"

"After several years of therapy, I think I do."

"Will you tell me?"

"It's complicated."

"It might help me with Jeanne."

"It might, but it also might not."

"I haven't got much to lose."

"You're not a middle aged woman. I'm not sure you'll understand."

"Again, what have I got to lose? I told you mine, now it's your turn to tell me yours."

"You've already heard most of it."

"Yes, but I haven't heard the why. That's what I'm dying to know."

"It might not be the same why with Jeanne."

"I know, but at least it might give me a place to start."

"Okay, I was forty-one. My two kids were in high school.

I nodded. "I know, you were beginning to feel old and useless."

Jennifer bristled. "Michael, are you being judgmental?"

"Maybe a little. I'm getting old too."

"You have your career."

"You had a career too. You told me that you were an administrative assistant at an automobile dealership."

"Michael you own and run an accounting firm. Richard is a full professor at Kelroy College. I'm an administrative assistant. That's a fancy name for a secretary. I type documents and bring men coffee."

"Okay, you win on that one."

"It's not a matter of winning or losing, it's a matter of understanding."

"You're right, I understand.

"Do you?"

"I don't know. I'll try."

"That's a start."

"Okay, you were feeling old and unfulfilled." I held up my hand. "That was not intended to be a disparaging remark."

"I'll accept that. Yes I was and I was also beginning to question my sexual desirability."

"Why?"

"I looked in the mirror."

"You're a beautiful woman."

"Thank you, I was when I was twenty-five and yes, men still tell me that now; but when I looked in the mirror I saw the changes in my skin and the lines that were beginning to appear around my eyes and mouth."

"We all get old. That's why marriage is so important. A husband and wife grow old together. Love allows them to accept the superficial changes that are occurring."

"You're absolutely right and I kept trying to tell myself that, but..." Jennifer's voice trailed off.

I watched her.

After a moment she said, "Losing your sexual desirability is another issue."

"Did your husband lose interest in you?"

Smiling, Jennifer said, "No, I lost interest in him."

"You're not making sense."

"I lost interest in respectable sex."

"Respectable sex?"

"Proper sex, the sex a virtuous wife engages in with her husband."

"Was your ex husband a prude?"

Jennifer shook her head. "That's the saddest part of my depressing tale. He wasn't. I'm quite certain he would have loved some dirty, nasty sex."

"You're losing me."

"Michael, my husband had me on a pedestal. I was his wife, the mother of his children and his idea of feminine perfection. Sadly it was a status that I enjoyed and one that I wasn't willing to risk. I didn't dare admit to that wonderful man that I had an insatiable desire to occasionally be a nasty cock sucking slut."

"He probably would have loved you even more."

"You're right and while I know that now, I didn't know it then. Being a model wife and mother was the core of my identity. I didn't dare risk that."

"So you had an affair."

"Two of them and I'm ashamed to admit that I did things for those men that I never did for my husband, the only man I will ever love." Shaking her head, Jennifer said, "Richard was the perfect husband, father and provider. I felt that I had to be the perfect wife, mother and homemaker and that included being a paragon of virtue."

Jennifer paused for a moment and then she said, "Michael, this country has an outrageous double standard about sex. On Sundays we go to church where we self righteously celebrate our uptight morality and virtuously condemn the Jezebels and Lotharios who violate our strict standards of respectability. That's our public facade. In private everything changes. As soon as we get home from church we log on to the Internet and eagerly seek out stories, movies and pictures describing every sexual perversion imaginable."

Sighing, Jennifer said, "And eventually many of us succumb to our insatiable desire to act out those perverted fantasies."

"Perverted fantasies? Isn't that a little overly dramatic?"

"It is, but when you're a proper middle class wife and mother anything other than missionary position intercourse feels perverted and adventurous."

"And you didn't dare do that with your husband."

"I was ashamed to do it with him."

"But you did it with three other men."

"Men I barely knew. Men I hardly talked to when we were together."

"The anonymity was what made it work."

Jennifer smiled. "You're beginning to understand."

"It doesn't make it okay."

"No it doesn't, but I don't think this is an issue of right or wrong or good or bad. We're products of our culture."

I nodded, but then I said, "I gather that your husband didn't see it that way."

"No he certainly did not. I've repeatedly tried to explain it to him. He won't listen and I don't blame him. He hired a private detective. They had the motel room under both audio and video surveillance. He saw the things I did for my boyfriend."

"Things you didn't do for him."

"Michael, I can't begin to describe how much I'd like to go back and change that. If he'd let me, I'd spend the rest of my life as Richard's personal whore."

"Has he found another woman?"

"No, in fact I'm reasonably certain that he doesn't even date." Slowly shaking her head, Jennifer said, "I shattered his confidence."

Nodding, I said, "You made him feel old and undesirable."

"But he wasn't, he isn't. He still isn't."

"Men are every bit as vulnerable as women to the fears and self doubt that come with advancing age."

"I know."

"Jeanne called me a balding middle aged man with a paunch. She's tried to take it back, but those are words that are difficult to forget."

"Especially when you know that she was about to spend an evening in bed with another man, a younger man."

Sighing, I said, "Yes, that makes it much harder to forget those words."

"Michael, this is a complicated situation. I'm sure your wife still loves you."

"I believe she does, too."

"Do you still love her?"

"Yes, I do; very much."

"Then talk to her. Try to get her to go to a marriage counselor. Try to work this out."

"I'll call her. I'll talk to her. I'll even try to get her to go to counseling, but Jennifer." I paused.

She said, "Yes?"

"If I find out that Jeanne did things with this other man that she's refused to do with me." I sighed. "I don't think I'll be able to handle that."

"Michael, please try to understand. We're products of a repressed, uptight culture. For many of us it's difficult to reconcile our physical desires with the puritanical ethics that were instilled in us while we grew up."

"I know, but love, sharing and mutual concern are also important. For the past several years I've been virtually celibate."

"Richard was too. I'm not attempting to justify either my behavior or Jeanne's. I'm just trying to tell you that it's complicated."

Nodding, I said, "I understand. Thank you, I appreciate your insights. I really do mean that."

Jennifer looked at the clock over the bar. It was 10:30. She finished her drink and stood up. "Michael while our conversation became quite serious, it was satisfying. I'm glad I met you tonight and I hope I see you again."

I smiled. "Our conversation was confusing and at times unsettling, but it was enlightening. Jennifer, you're a bright thoughtful woman. I enjoyed meeting you too."

Jennifer stared at me for a moment and then she said, "Call Jeanne."

"I will."

"Call her tonight."

"It's late."

"That doesn't matter. This is an issue that supersedes the social conventions regarding the time of day. Call her, do it now."

Realizing that she was right, I said, "Okay, I'll call her tonight."

"Promise?"

"Yes, I promise."

"Good." Jennifer kissed my cheek and said, "Michael, you're a very handsome and desirable man. If it wasn't so obvious that you're still deeply in love with Jeanne, I'd try to entice you to share my bed with me tonight."

Laughing, I said, "Thank you, Jennifer, that was kind. Right now my faltering ego needs every boost it can get."

"Michael, that wasn't an attempt to shore up your ego. That was the truth, and if your marriage does collapse, you're going to quickly find that out. Women are going to be hounding you for dates."

"Well, I still am in love with Jeanne, so for the time being it's a moot point."

"I know and that's one of the many reasons you're so attractive." Jennifer kissed me again and said, "I wish you well, sweet man." And then she turned and walked out of the bar.

As soon as Jennifer was gone I finished my scotch and said goodbye to Jerry, the bartender.

It was 10:45 Friday night. When I stepped out of the Cosmopolitan Lounge. First Avenue was bustling with activity. It was a warm August evening. People were leaving theaters and restaurants and walking to night clubs and cocktail lounges. Traffic in the street was almost as congested as it was at mid day.

I walked over to a bus bench, sat down and took out my cell phone. As I pressed the speed dial number for my home telephone I wondered whether Jeanne would be at home or out on another date with her new boyfriend. While that afternoon she'd assured me that she was going to stop seeing Derek Fischer, I was skeptical.

Jeanne was at home. She picked up on the third ring.

"Michael, thank you for calling." Caller ID had identified me.

"Hello, Jeanne."

"Where are you? We have to talk."

"I agree. I want to talk too. That's why I called."

"Come home, I'll make a pot of coffee."

"Jeanne, I can't come home tonight."

"Why not?" The disappointment in Jeanne's voice was evident.

"I have a meeting at 10:00 tomorrow morning with Charles and Edith Montgomery. I need to get some sleep."

"A meeting with the Montgomerys; yes of course, that is important. You do need to get some sleep." While Jeanne was still disappointed, she understood. She knew just how important the Montgomerys were to my business.

"I'm sorry, but I do. The Montgomery account is important for both of us."

"I know, Michael. When can you come home?"

"I'm sure I'll have a few details to attend to after the meeting. Why don't you plan on seeing me around 2:00."

"Okay, will you want some lunch?"

"I doubt that I'll have time to eat, so a sandwich would be nice."

"I have some ham. I'll have a nice ham and cheese sandwich for you."

"Thank you, Jeanne."

"Michael, I really am sorry about everything that's happened."

"I am too, Jeanne. We'll talk about it tomorrow afternoon."

"I'm so glad you're coming home. I've missed you."

"I've missed you, too."

"Michael, I'm hoping that tomorrow afternoon you'll give me a chance to show you just how much I love you."

"Jeanne?"

"Baby, I've neglected you. I don't understand why, but I promise you that you'll never again be neglected."

"We'll talk tomorrow."

"Yes of course."

"Jeanne, it's late. I need to get back to my motel and go to bed."

Once again deflated, Jeanne said, "Yes, of course. I understand. We'll talk tomorrow afternoon."

"We will. Good night, Jeanne."

"Good night, Michael. I love you."

"I love you too, Jeanne."

"Do you, Michael? Do you really?"

"Jeanne, considering everything that's happened I think I'm the one who should be asking that question."

There was a brief silence and then Jeanne said, "Yes you're right. Michael, I really am sorry. I can't tell you how ashamed I am about the way I've handled all of this."

"Good night, Jeanne. We'll talk tomorrow afternoon."

"Yes of course, you need to get to bed. Good night, Michael." Jeanne paused. After a moment she said, "Michael, I really do love you."

"I know that, Jeanne. I love you, too. Good night."

"Good night, Michael."

I ended the call, put my cell phone away, walked quickly back to my office and got my car. Once I was in my motel room I stripped off my clothes, brushed my teeth and got into bed.

As I was falling asleep, I recalled something that Jeanne said during our telephone conversation. "I can't tell you how ashamed I am about the way I've handled all of this." That bothered me. She didn't say that she was ashamed about what she did; she said that she was ashamed about how she'd handled it.

Realizing that there was nothing that I could do about it at that moment, I put it out of my mind and closed my eyes. I was tired. Sleep came instantly.

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