A Cautious Man Ch. 14-16bycoaster2©
Bill was up early, far earlier than normal. He showered, dressed and left for his office long before anyone else had risen. He had hardly slept at all. He was going over this horrific situation in his head, going over it again and again. He hadn't resolved anything. It was still the same problem, and he had no idea how to address it.
Bill had always been a morning person, and the advantage that particular day was that he could deal with a great deal of things on his desk in a relatively short period of time without losing his concentration. When Vera arrived, he asked her to make sure he didn't miss the Comfort Coach when it came around. He needed something to eat. Vera nodded and disappeared out the door. Ten minutes later she was back.
"Here ... eat this," she commanded. She handed him a white paper bag that was still hot to the touch. He peeked inside and discovered the wonderful aroma of the infamous "Breakfast Bagel," complete with egg, bacon and a steaming, whole wheat bagel. He looked up at the older woman and smiled.
"You sure know how to look after me, Vera," he smiled.
"Yes ... well ... it looks like what you need is more than just a bagel." It was one of her typical pronouncements. "Is there anything you want to tell me? You know I'm going to find out anyway."
Bill looked up at his personal secretary and couldn't help himself. He snorted and shook his head. The events of the past twenty-four hours came rushing back to him and Vera could see the change in his expression.
"What happened, Bill? I've know you long enough to know it's bad. Very bad."
"Yah ... it's bad. I found out Marion is ... was ... having an affair."
"Oh no. Oh, Bill. You don't deserve that. After all you've done for her." The look on her face was one of genuine pity.
"Yah ... well ... now comes the hard part. What to do?"
"Yes ... what to do? Do you want some free advice from an old lady with experience?"
"Sure. The one thing I'm short of right now is experience."
"Trust, but verify. If you forgive her ... take her back, and I'm guessing you will, trust but verify."
He sat back in his chair with the partially eaten bagel before him on the desk. "Thanks."
Vera turned to go and almost got to the door before Bill called out to her.
"Vera ... what makes you think I'll forgive her?"
"Because that's who you are, Bill. You are a good man who always gives people the benefit of the doubt." She smiled, turned and left.
Bill thought about what she had said and knew in his heart that she was right. Marion would get another chance. But just one, he promised himself.
His meeting with Tex was long and complete. He had a full dossier on Mark Dreesen and it wasn't pretty. He was a predator and even at his tender age, a skilled manipulator of women, exploiting their vulnerabilities. He had spent time in prison for sexual assault when he was eighteen and had two other charges for similar offenses dropped due to lack of evidence. Apparently, the victims failed to testify.
"This guy is a piece of shit and he needs to be dealt with," Tex spat.
"Fine ... what do you suggest?" Bill was uncomfortable with violence and wouldn't condone it.
"I think we can set him up with something serious. We can use Sally. She loves dickheads like him."
"No violence or law-breaking?"
"Come on, Bill. You know me better than that. I've got a reputation to uphold," he said with a grin. It wasn't exactly a promise, but Bill felt better than just going after Dreesen with violence.
"So what about Marion?" Bill finally asked.
"Well, she's been seeing Dreesen since before Christmas. Most of their get-togethers have been at cheap motels. The last one was the Marriot. I've got the receipts for at least twenty shack-ups. Your wife paid for everything."
"Well, I guess I should be happy. She told me the truth. That's a starting point, I suppose."
"Good. I feel for you, man. I hope you can fix this. I really do."
"Thanks, Tex. As usual, you came through. Thanks."
The big man smiled and waved goodbye as he walked out the door.
Vera appeared immediately afterward.
"Anything new?" she asked.
"Nope. It looks like she told the whole story."
"Well, that's something. What now?"
"I've been thinking she should see a psychiatrist or a psychologist or something. She needs to try and figure out why she did what she did. I can't let it happen again."
"What about Dave?" It was a suggestion as much as a question.
Bill thought for a moment. "Dave?"
"He knows both of you. He's probably closer to you two than anyone else in your life. If anyone can get to the bottom of what's bothering her, he can. Talk to him. See what he thinks. If that doesn't help, then maybe it's time for the 'shrink.'"
"OK ... it's a good suggestion. Thanks. Thanks for caring." A faint smile crossed his lips as he looked at the older woman. She was wise and she cared about "her people," as she called them. "Oh, and have Charlie see me when he has some time, please."
Vera nodded and left the office. Charlie Stanbridge was the corporation's tax and legal expert.
Dave Markham was concerned and anxious when Bill Orton called him and asked for an appointment. He had known Bill too long not to recognize when something was terribly amiss. He made space in an otherwise busy day for his friend.
"So, tell me, what's troubling you?" Dave began, after they had dispensed with the greetings and small talk.
"I've discovered that Marion has been having an affair," Bill said bluntly.
Dave winced and leaned back in his chair. This wasn't going to be easy. "Tell me about it."
"She's been seeing a younger guy for the last four months. She's had sex with him at least twenty times."
"Have you talked to her? Does she know you know?"
"Yes. I talked to her last night. She says he made her feel beautiful and young again. She says it wasn't me or anything I did. She's taking the responsibility for her actions. I guess it's the best I could hope for," he said sadly.
"Yes, at least she knows what's at stake. What do you know about the man she was with?" The pastor was concentrating on every word Bill spoke.
"Too much. He's scum. He preys on women. He's got a criminal record, and I think he saw a vulnerable person in Marion, and he took advantage of her. I think, in a way, she was a victim. It doesn't excuse what she did, but maybe it explains some of what happened."
"Yes ... that would make sense. What have you decided?" The question was left open-ended to let Bill tell him what he wanted him to know.
"I've already dealt with this guy. No violence, but he's going to find himself in big trouble again. I can't let him get off scot-free."
Dave nodded, not really wanting to know the details of the man's punishment. Bill was not a vengeful man, but the pastor was certain the man who seduced his friend's wife would regret it.
"I need some help here, Mark. I don't know what to do next. I thought about a psychiatrist, someone to get to the bottom of what's going on with Marion. I'm not sure I'd really learn anything for myself. You know, that doctor-patient confidentiality thing."
Mark was silent for a minute, his fingertips bridged in front of his mouth, his eyes cast down on the desk top. Finally, he looked up.
"Does Marion know what kind of man she was involved with?"
"No. I just got that information this morning."
"Are you going to tell her about him?"
"She may not want to believe you."
"I have a copy of his criminal record and a report on his other activities. I can't see her being able to dispute that."
"No. I think that should convince her." The pastor paused again. "She really needs to see just how poor her judgment was, I think. It may be the shock treatment that will cause her to understand just what she had done to you and her marriage. Do the children know about this?"
"No. I'd really rather not involve them. At their age, I'm not sure they'd understand and it would just upset them."
"Yes, you're certainly right." Again, he fell silent with his fingers still bridged, this time with his eyes on Bill. He blinked and straightened himself in his chair.
"Some years ago, I took a course on counseling, particularly marital counseling. I found it fascinating. I won't pretend I'm an expert or anything like it, but I was given some insight into how marriages go wrong and why. The most common reason, I'm afraid to say, is infidelity. It isn't always the wife, of course, but the most interesting part of the course was the analysis of why wives stray."
Mark now had Bill's total attention again.
"Marion is how old? Thirty six? She is aware that her youth is behind her and she looks at herself as "middle-aged". She also knows that menopause can begin as early as forty, although that isn't common. She was and is a very attractive woman, and in her youth, she was much sought after by males. As time has passed, she has had the seeds of doubt planted from a hundred different sources. Some of them would be her peers, who may have aged and grown less attractive than she. Our television commercials constantly remind women of the aging process and all the things they need to do or buy to delay the inevitable. Those same commercials depict the women who use these products as sexually desirable. We get pounded with these messages day after day."
He paused for a moment to see if there was any response from his friend.
"She told me that he made her feel beautiful and desirable. Is that what you are referring to?"
"Yes, exactly. It was her weak spot. He would know that. She is still a very beautiful woman, but the person she sees in the mirror every day may not be the one that is really there. Do you understand what I'm saying?"
Bill nodded. "Low self-esteem," he murmured.
"Bill, I know that you constantly compliment Marion because I've heard you. You have never left her in a moment's doubt that you think of her as anything less than gorgeous. But I am suggesting that she doesn't see herself in that same way. This man came along at a time when she needed someone; someone who wasn't close to her ... telling her she was beautiful and desirable. He proved it to her and that was the trigger for the affair. All he really had to do was reinforce her belief in herself."
"So, Mark, what do I do now?" he asked wearily.
"I want to talk to her ... alone ... and depending on how that goes, both of you together. She seems to be comfortable with me, so it might be easier than just sending her to a psychiatrist. The other option is a professional marriage counselor. That might be a good idea, if you aren't happy with the results we get here."
"OK. I'll be talking to her tonight and tell her to contact you. Please let me know if you don't hear from her in a couple of days." Bill stood and offered his hand to his friend and pastor. "As always, good to see you and thank you for your help."
They sat in the living room after the children were in bed and Bill passed the dossier on Mark Dreesen to Marion.
"He isn't exactly a sterling citizen, Marion."
She had read the report, almost in a state of shock and put it down on the coffee table. "How could I have been so stupid?" she said, shaking her head. "God knows what he would have done if I had continued ... ." her voice trailed away.
"He won't be bothering you again. I'm having him dealt with."
Her head snapped up and her eyes were wide. "You're not going to ... to ... kill him, are you?"
"No ... nothing that dramatic. Mr. Dreesen will be helped to see the error of his ways, and he will be anxious to leave the area, I'm sure," Bill said calmly. "There won't be any violence. You know me better than that."
Her head dropped down and she was studying her hands in her lap. "What do we do next?" she finally asked.
"You ... will make an appointment with Pastor Dave to discuss what's happened, and see if he can find a way to help you understand what you have done to us, and to yourself. I'd like you to call Dave tomorrow and make that appointment. After he's spent some time with you, we will see him together. I want very much to put our marriage back together again, Marion. I'm not going to quit unless you do."
She nodded. "I'll call him tomorrow morning. I want this to work too, Bill. I'll do whatever I have to do to make it work. I promise." She finally looked up and made eye contact with her husband. His gaze had been steady and level all the while.
True to her word, Marion called Pastor Markham and arranged an appointment for the following day. She attended five sessions with him and, in truth, felt better with each one. She had a clearer understanding of the attraction Dreesen had held for her and of her vulnerability. Dave had been able to draw her out and get her to articulate her insecurities. They were, as he suspected, all about her loss of attractiveness; a loss that was irrational and yet real to Marion. At the end of the fifth hour, he asked to invite Bill to their next meeting.
Bill sat patiently as Dave described the hours that Marion and he had spent and the revelations that it had produced. Marion talked about what she had learned about herself and the shame she felt for having defiled their marriage vows. She sounded sincere and contrite, Bill thought. She had been punished enough. They had not shared their bed in over a month and it was time to forgive. He would never forget, but he would forgive.
They had, they felt, successfully hidden their problems from the children. While Bill had slept in the extra bedroom, he arose before anyone else in the morning and retired after everyone else had gone to bed in the evening. He made the bed and thus the children were none the wiser over the five weeks he had been separated from Marion. When he made the decision to return to their marital bed, he realized how much he had missed the warmth and scent of this beautiful wife. Their first night back together was one filled with gentle lovemaking and some tears. When he awoke the next morning, he had slept better than he had in a long time.
My thanks to ErikThread for his effective and timely editing. Any errors or omissions are mine alone.