Thanks to the Hip and Knee doctor for editing assistance.
There is no sex in this story. Sorry.
It was one of those Sunday mornings when I just had the urge to go to Home Depot and kill time. I know, I should have been in church, but this was a hell of a lot more fun. I didn't really need anything, but since I hated golf, this was the best alternative. If I got lucky, the weed-and-feed would be on a year-end close out. Two years ago, I got four bags for one-fourth of the regular price.
"John. Fancy meeting you here." Barry Bartel was a family friend; not real close, but close enough to have a coffee and a chat with, even though I hadn't seen him for almost a year. Coincidently, Barry's wife, Greta, and my wife, Sheila, were leaving tomorrow morning for a week long Caribbean cruise. Since Barry wasn't able to get off work to go along, Sheila felt that I should stay home with the kids so that she and Greta could enjoy their time at sea together. She insisted that I would be a third wheel. Besides that, the two girls could save money by sharing a cabin. I didn't like it, but didn't feel like arguing about it.
I am sure that you can all see where this is going.
After a quick greeting ritual, we started wandering through the pest control section.
"John, I was sorry to hear that you couldn't get off work for the cruise. I was really looking forward to it." What the hell? He was the one that couldn't get off work. What was he trying to pull here?
"Hell, Barry, I already took the week off. I am going to be painting the kitchen while the girls are away. Sheila told me that you couldn't get off work."
"I work for my father, John. I can get off anytime that I want. I was actually packed when Greta told me that you couldn't make it."
Barry and I stood and looked at each other without speaking. The silence was broken by an old fart driving one of those motorized shopping carts.
"Are you guys going to stand there all day?"
I pushed my wagon to the side and looked at Barry. "Do you want to go get some coffee?"
We spent the next two hours at Mickey D's. It was not difficult at all for us to figure out that our wives had conspired to take a seven day Caribbean cruise without us. The big question was why they would do this? Both of us avoided the obvious until we couldn't stand it anymore. It was like the proverbial elephant in the room. I finally broke the barrier.
"So, Barry. Are they taking two guys with them or are they planning to hook up with a couple of strangers?"
He didn't want to answer. I don't think he even wanted to think about the possible answers. "John. Do you want a Danish?"
He wasn't trying to avoid the answer, but I got the feeling he was just trying to delay it. I nodded in the affirmative and also raised my empty coffee cup. Five minutes later, we had two hot buns and two steaming coffees.
"John, I can't imagine Greta picking up a stranger, so I have to go with some sort of a pre-arranged thing."
"I hate to say it, but I agree. What I don't understand is why they are taking a trip to do this. Wouldn't it be easier just to hook up with a guy some place around home?'
"Hell, maybe they are. I'll be real honest with you; I don't keep track of what Greta does or where she goes. I have always trusted her and never considered that she might be seeing any one."
"Why would two mothers with school aged kids even think about messing around?"
Both of us tried to drink the coffee, but it was so damn hot we had to give up. We put the cups down and stared out the window.
"John. It must be a couple of guys from work." Sheila and Greta both worked for International Casualty Insurance. What Barry said seemed to make sense.
"Is there anything that we can do to stop it?"
"Barry, if they know these guys well enough to go on a cruise with them, then we are probably too late already."
"What do you mean? Do you think they have already cheated on us?"
"I hate to say it, but I am starting to think that way." Barry got up and walked over to the service counter. A minute later he was back. "Damn. They charge 27 cents for a cup of ice. Why does anyone bother to come here anymore?"
We each dumped a little ice in with the hot Java. Neither of us spoke for several moments.
"John. Now that I think about it, Greta has been putting in a lot of extra evening and weekend hours at work lately. I never gave it much thought before. I hate to say this, but I am starting to agree with you."
"I am not going to stop Sheila from going, but I also am not going to just sit on my ass."
I finished my Danish and tossed what was left of the coffee in the trash. "Barry. Meet me here tomorrow right after the girls leave for the airport. We have to do a little planning. Don't say anything to Greta that would indicate that you know what is going on."
Barry gave me a thumbs-up as I walked out the door. It looked as if he was going to stay and finish his coffee. He didn't seem happy.
Things were pretty normal when I got home. Our two sons, Todd who is nine and Jason, ten, were firmly fixed in front of the Wii. I felt that they should have been outside, but I gave that fight up years ago. Sheila was acting the same as she always had. I sat and looked over the newspaper as she got a light lunch together. I expected her to be chatting about her trip, but she seemed to be avoiding any discussion about it. Of course, that in itself was interesting.
That afternoon I finally got the boys outside to kick the soccer ball around for a while. Shelia was busy inside getting her bags packed. She insisted on being ready so that she could leave with no problems in the morning. I found myself smiling as I glanced towards the house several times. How did I miss this? How stupid was I? Why didn't I figure it out long ago?
"Todd? Jason? I am going to be busy next week painting the house while your mother is gone. How do you feel about spending the week with Grand-mom and Grand-pop Conner?"
I never really received a reply. They both immediately headed for the house, and ten minutes later, they were packed. My parents had a farm about twenty miles outside of town and had horses. It was a no-brainer. Sheila squawked a little, but seemed hesitant to make too big a deal about it. By the time I got back home, my wife had supper ready.
After she cleaned up, Sheila took a shower. Of course this gave me an opportunity to do a quick check of her bags. My suspicions were confirmed. Three things stood out. First, most of her underwear and sleeping garments were far too sexy if she was spending her time with Greta. The second red flag was a brand new orange bikini that was carefully hidden inside her make-up case. The last, and worst discovery, was two ten-packs of condoms that were hidden in her hair dryer case with a tube of KY jelly. Why would my wife be taking condoms on a cruise? I kicked myself for even being stupid enough to ask myself that question.
Sheila wanted to get a good night sleep before her trip and I decided that I wanted to watch the Steven Segal movie marathon. There was no sex that night.
I did not have international coverage with my cell phone. Sheila used a cell phone that she got from work that did have world-wide service. I couldn't call her, but she agreed to call home daily, or if there were any problems. I told her not to worry if I didn't answer. I might be at my parent's house with the boys or busy with the painting. She seemed relieved at my answer.
Greta was already at the terminal when I dropped Sheila off. She smiled and waved to me as Sheila joined her. I was anxious to see Barry.
Barry waited until he saw me park and then got us a couple cups of coffee. He got the ice at the same time and complained about it again.
"John. Tell me you have some good news."
I just shook my head in the negative.
"Greta had two new dresses packed and underwear that most women would be embarrassed to wear."
"Unfortunately, I have the same bad news. A new bikini and a whole bunch of condoms."
"Oh hell. I didn't even think to look for anything like that. I didn't go into her make-up case at all. I don't know if I am glad I didn't find any or sorry that I didn't look harder."
For the next twenty minutes, Barry and I moaned and groaned about our dilemma. When the coffee was gone, it was time for us to get to work.
The first stop was International Casualty Insurance. We got past the receptionist by claiming to have employment interviews with Kermit Templeton, the head of the personnel department. Barry and I knew Kermit from high school. We weren't what you would call close friends, but we all got along.
"Oh shit. I was afraid of this." Kermit was not exactly happy to see us. "Close the door, will you?"
Barry and I sat and tried to get comfortable in a pair of chairs that were not designed for comfort.
"You know why we are here don't you, Kermit?"
"I have a damn good idea."
Barry and I were smiling, but our host wasn't.
"We were hoping that you could tell us how many people in the company were on vacation this week."
"Is that a question?"
Our smiles turned to frowns and Kermit quickly changed his attitude. He pushed a few computer keys and replied with a sigh. "Including Sheila and Greta, fourteen people are taking vacation."
"Could you print out a list for us?"
"No, but I think I can give you what you want." Kermit hit a few more computer keys and the printer by the side of his desk started humming away. He pushed two sheets of paper our way and waited for a response.
They were personnel information pages on Clayton Mankey and Calvin Bostic. Barry and I glanced over them quickly and then looked to Kermit.
"These two gentlemen are on the same cruise ship with Greta and Sheila. There is no reason to give you the rest of the list. This is what you wanted to know."
"Just curious, but do you know who is with whom?"
He reached over and slid Calvin's picture in front of Barry and the other one by me.
"Does anyone else know about this?"
Kermit seemed a little uneasy about giving us an answer, but finally relented. "Guys. Everybody knows about this."
"I thought that the company had a policy against this sort of thing?"
"We do, but it is only enforced if there is a complaint."
"Then what happens?"
"Usually a slap on the wrist."
"What if we want more than that?"
"You are not going to make things difficult for me are you?"
Barry and I looked at each other. Nothing was said, but it was obvious that we were in agreement.
"Kermit. If these four people are still working here next week we will be suing. Right now, we don't know for how much or any of the other particulars, but it will happen. We will have our lawyer contact you or your legal department, whichever you prefer. Any questions?"
"I am sorry that this had to happen. We didn't take any action because the relationships were both consensual. No one was being forced or coerced into doing anything. Of course, we don't know exactly how far things went, but we do know that it existed. We did nothing because no one complained."
"Kermit. It is official. You fire all four of them and we do nothing. If you do nothing, you can expect a law suit; a very public one."
Barry and I stood up. We actually shook Kermit's hand before we left. As we walked out the front door, Barry looked at me.
"I guess we see a lawyer, then lunch, and then we pay a visit to our local travel agent."
We parked the cars and were walking towards the lawyer's office when Barry suddenly stopped.
I looked at him and shrugged my shoulders. "What?"
"John. What the hell are we going to ask the lawyer to do for us?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, I figure as soon as we walk in that door, it is going to cost us a hell of a lot of dough and we are not going to get anything for it, except a lighter wallet."
"We'll get a divorce. We'll be free of the cheating bitches."
"Think about it. We will be forced to pay them both support. We will be forced to continue making payments on the houses. We will be forced to give up custody of the kids and then be forced to pay for their support. We will be saddled with all the bills that we have outstanding and the court will probably make use provide our wives with credit cards and cell phones. Before it is all over, we will be paying for the kid's college also."
"What do we get out of it?"
"Nothing, as far as I can see."
"Why the hell would any sane man get a divorce?"
"The only reason that I can think of is so that he can get to see his kids. That's the trade off."
"Damn it, Barry. I love my kids. I don't want to give them up."
"I know exactly how you feel. I am going to die if I can't see my girls again, but I don't want to get bled dry just because my wife cheated on me. After what happened, the only fair thing would be to give the kids to us and make them pay."
"That will never happen, will it? I feel as if I am being blackmailed."
We both stood quietly in the middle of the parking lot.
"John. Who the hell makes these damn laws? It is unfair as hell."
We turned and started back towards the cars.
"Barry. I have to admit that Sheila is a good mother. If I had the kids I couldn't do as good a job as she could."
"Yeah, I know. It is the same way with Greta. She is a good mom and the girls love her. I hate to say it, but she would be a better parent than I would, even though she is a cheating whore."
We were both leaning against the hood of my car, not speaking. I was kicking at some miniscule gravel at my feet and Barry was playing with his jacket zipper.
"John. Do you want to go get some ribs?"
We split a full rack and had three beers a piece. Just to kill time, we switched to coffee and each had some banana pudding.
We sobered up enough to drive and headed over to the Good Times Travel Agency. Nancy Rayborne was an old family friend who was soon to be an ex-family friend. Everybody in our circle of friends and family used Nancy to plan and schedule their trips. Loyalty was the only thing that kept her from going under the last few years. The Internet killed almost all of her competitors.
When we walked through the door you could read her lips at the back of the office. "Oh, shit!" She didn't have to say it out load.
Barry and I both sat down and smiled at the instrument of our demise. Two of the other agents, who sat near Nancy, got up and excused themselves to go to lunch. One of them had a brown bag on her desk. It was obvious that everyone in the office knew what was going on and they all were trying to distance themselves.
We were waiting without saying anything. Nancy smiled and tried to get comfortable in her chair with no success. Finally she could not contain herself any longer.
"What can I do for you guys today?"
Barry and I looked at each other and snickered loud enough for her to hear.
I leaned forward and softly said; "You have five minutes to tell us everything or we will raise so much hell that the police will have to close down your office as a crime scene."
"Aw, come on guys. Give me a break. I am not going to tell you anything more than your wives told you. You are not going to do anything foolish are you?"
Barry stood up and turned towards the front of the office. There were two other agents there and one couple planning a trip.
"Listen up, people. I'd advise you to leave the office for a few minutes, because we are going to be rearranging all the furniture."
"John. Barry. Wait. Wait. Okay. Okay. What the hell do you want? Just don't get me or the office in trouble. I don't need any publicity."
Good Times Travel Agency was a franchise. Nancy had gotten in trouble during the last year by booking some vacations for underage kids and also a few trips to Thailand for some local pedophiles. She didn't need any more dirt getting out.
Barry motioned for everyone to relax and sit back down.
"Nancy. Who else is on the trip with Sheila and Greta?"
"John. There are over a thousand passengers on that ship."
"You know what the hell I mean, Nancy. Who else from International Casualty is on that ship?"
"I can't tell you that."
"Nancy. What rooms are Sheila and Greta in?"
"They are booked into Sunset Deck, Room 113."
"That is not what I asked, is it?"
"Damn it, John. What are you trying to do? What do you want from me?"
"What rooms are Calvin Bostic and Clayton Mankey booked into?"
There was some hesitation on her part which went well with the worried look on her face. She seemed to be stammering a little until I slammed my fist down hard on the desk. Nancy jumped back in surprise as did the other two travel agents in the front. The two customers quietly got up and left.
"God damn it, Nancy. What room are those two guys in? Answer me right now and quit playing games. I swear I'll tear this place apart if I have to."
"Bostic and Mankey are in Sunset Deck, room 115." You could barely hear her utter the reply.
Barry leaned over the desk and looked Nancy in the eyes. "Nancy. Is Calvin sharing a room with my wife, Greta?"
She was shaking and trying to move her chair back away from the desk.
"Answer me, damn it. Are Greta and Calvin sharing a room?" This time it was his fist that slammed down on the desk top.
"Yes! Yes! They are both in 113 and Sheila and Clayton are in 115. I didn't set it up that way; they did. I just did what I was asked to do. It is not my fault that ......"
Nancy stopped in mid-sentence. She knew that she had already said too much.
"Give us a copy of the trip itinerary and everything you have about the cruise."
Nancy quickly hit a few keys on her computer and grabbed two folders from a filing cabinet just behind her. She slid everything across the desk to us. I think that she might have been crying, but I wasn't sure.
As we got up to leave I turned to her. "Do not contact anyone on that ship or anyplace else to tell them that we were here or that we had this conversation. If you do, I can assure you that you will be out of business before the end of the month."
We left the building and Barry looked over at me. "How the hell are we going to do that?"
"I have no idea. It just sounded like a good thing to say at the time."
Barry decided that he was going to leave his two daughters, Grace and Marie, with his sister Beth. She had two teen aged girls also. He was going to come by the house after he got them all settled in.
We spent the evening reading all the brochures and schedules. After that, it was easy to come up with a plan. We agreed that our marriages were over and neither one of us was even going to consider trying to save what we had. The big contention was the children. We both loved our kids and we both were torn about the effect that the separation would have on them; especially the way we were going to do it.
We decided that there would be no divorces from our end. Both of us were going to figure out in our own way how we were going to take care of the kids. I was hoping that after things settled down, I could make some arrangements with Sheila to share them in some fashion. Of course, I would see to it that they didn't need for food or money, but I also was not going to be supporting Sheila. This was all going to require planning and work. If things worked out okay, I was also planning on taking care of their college. Tonight, we had to decide how to handle the more immediate problems.
The cruise ship had free WiFis. Barry was going to take his laptop and preload it with all of the addresses, phone numbers, and E-mails addresses of all of our friends, families, and work associates. The cell phones were still going to be a problem, but we didn't want to get bogged down with it.