A Child's Punishment


After graduation, I went back home to go to work for Harold Slasser. He had an investment counseling business and he handled several of the larger local business's financial affairs. Many people would be surprised to find how much money is invested by large companies for tax purposes and for long term growth. In addition, he had hundreds of individual accounts that his staff managed and that's where he started me. I managed ten of the middle sized accounts with oversight from Harold and other senior accountants. I learned and my accounts increased. With each account, my base salary increased until soon I was making acceptable money.

I worked during the days and began to look for excitement at several of the clubs in downtown Columbia. I was a pretty good dancer and I drank moderately, never getting drunk and losing control. I rarely drank past midnight and by the time I headed home, I was sober enough to avoid trouble with the cops. I restricted my late nights to Friday and Saturday and rarely did much during the week. I still went out but it was usually locally.

I met Laurie Saunders at one of the clubs I frequented. I had seen her several times before, usually in the company of a man and she seemed to love to dance. She was one of those girls who looked perfect on the dance floor: long legs, perfect calves, short skirts that showed them off to their best advantage. Her waist was small and her breasts were large, usually displayed with a lot of cleavage. She was blond, of course, and wore her hair long and straight. Her face was pretty; well, more than pretty; almost beautiful. What I could see of her eyes told me they were green. She seemed so sure of herself, always in control and always laughing. I watched her with pleasure.

It was one Saturday night when she came in alone. She looked around, saw me sitting at the bar and walked over. I watched her approach with curiosity. I had never spoken to her nor she to me. So, what was she doing now? I looked at her as she approached, my eyes holding hers. She came directly over to me, slid onto a stool beside me and spoke.

"Buy me a drink?" She met my look with a smile and what seemed to be a knowing look.

"Of course. My name is Peter. What'll you have?"

"Just a beer please, and my name is Laurie. I've seen you here lots of times. I thought it was time we met."

Well that was the beginning. We stayed and danced that night until time to leave. I asked her if I could give her a ride and she accepted. We went to her place, talked until the small hours and I left happy. We simply talked and I wanted nothing more than to do just that. She was fascinating and I loved to watch her mouth as she spoke of her self. I learned that she was the same age as I and she worked in a gallery in town that sold paintings, art of all kinds and took work from artists on commission. She had a degree in fine arts and got into this work by accident. She loved it.

I told her about myself, my work, my life in general and she listened so intently, I felt she really wanted to know. She certainly knew how to win my attention. We talked about all kinds of things and were completely unaware of the passage of time. It was almost four in the morning before I looked at my watch. When I discovered how long I had been there, I apologized profusely but she just smiled and said she had the best time. She walked me to the door. I kissed her once, very softly and asked her if I could see her again. We made plans to go out to dinner next week.

As I drove home, I couldn't get Laurie out of my head. I told myself it was silly since I barely knew her but my heart didn't agree. It was already lost. The next few days were torture and I wondered why I hadn't thought to get her phone number. I finally looked her up in the book and found it. I called Tuesday and talked to her again. It was almost a continuation of Saturday night. I never wanted to hang up. Neither did she. I couldn't wait till tomorrow night and dinner.

Laurie and I began to date and soon it became exclusive. After being with her for less than six months, I proposed and she accepted. We decided to get married as soon as possible since she had no family to speak of and neither did I. We flew to Vegas and got married in a small ceremony, neither of us knowing who stood for us or who performed the ceremony. We spent a week there as our honeymoon. We rarely got out of the room for the first four days. Our sex life was one of the things that made us want to get married. She was insatiable in the bedroom and she was up for almost anything. She loved to give and receive oral and she was comfortable with sex in any position. She would do anything I asked except anal and I had no problem with that. She was so tight I needed nothing else to help me get off.

As we began our married life, we talked long and hard about what we each expected from the other. Neither of us wanted children, at least not for the foreseeable future. Maybe some time later. I spent one rainy afternoon telling Laurie about my mother and what she did. I let her know that infidelity was a non starter for me. If she wanted to consider an affair, I told her to let me know and I would free her of her marriage commitments immediately. She would then be free and I would let her go. I told her that the pain of losing her would be infinitely less than the pain of her betraying me. She listened, told me she understood perfectly and she assured me she felt the same way. We promised each other again that we would remain faithful unless, God forbid, we decided to end our marriage. Then we would do so first before a betrayal could occur.

Our marriage was strong and Laurie and I did many things together. We traveled the world, went sky diving, deep sea diving and fishing, and learned to ski and snowboard. We went camping and spent many nights out under the stars in our sleeping bags and a tent. Our life was filled with each other and many adventures. We matured together and learned each other's desires and secrets. We shared everything. We had friends by the dozen and we did things with them when our common interests matched. We had no special friends however, always keeping those we liked close but not intimate. It seemed safer to both of us that way.

We had been married seven years when the first problems occurred. Laurie had been running the gallery for the past two years and the owner wanted to sell. Laurie talked to me about buying the gallery herself and I listened to her proposal. We had the money and she seemed so sure that I of course agreed. She made the offer and the owner accepted. Three months later, we owned the gallery. Laurie began working there more and more hours and I began to see a change in her. She was more intense now and she seemed to be more and more involved with buying and selling. I was pleased that she was so happy running the place but I was not as happy with the amount of time she was spending there. It continued for the next eighteen months before I finally had to say something.

We talked one Sunday when Laurie was home. I told her of my concerns and she listened but told me that she felt I was overreacting. She agreed that she had been spending a lot of time there, but she promised to slow down and begin to delegate some of the work to Paula, the woman who worked with her. She also promised to hire another sales girl to free up more time. I was happy with these plans and told her so. We spent the rest of the day in bed, something we hadn't done for a while. Laurie was her old self and I welcomed her home. I felt things would return to normal soon.

My job was less stressful. I was now a full partner in the business and I had fifteen people working under my direction. Unlike Laurie, I spent less and less time at the office since my job was mentoring and monitoring which I did while I was there. With good training, my people were able to work without my constant direction leaving me free to make cold calls and deal with specific problems, all things done during working hours. Money was no object to Laurie and I and we had made all the arrangements for our retirement and funding for the things we planned to do.

We had now been married for nine years. Laurie had cut back on the Gallery hours and I was spending more time at home. We settled into a routine that included going out to dinner several nights a week, spending weekends at our cabin up in the mountains where we had four wheelers and snowmobiles, depending on the season, sometimes with friends, sometimes alone. The only thing I began to notice was that our lovemaking began to change. At first, it was very subtle: Laurie would sometimes claim to be too tired to do anything. Sometimes it would be a headache that seemed to occur more often now than before. At other times, when she was willing, her involvement in love making was less than enthusiastic. Before she had been very vocal and very active; now, much less so. Except on weekends when she seemed to be more like her old self.

At first I chalked it up to fatigue from working too much. I decided to mention it one night when she claimed fatigue.

"Laurie honey, what's going on? You've changed over the past few months. You're tired a lot, you have headaches way too often and you seem to be so distracted during the week. And you've been spending more and more time at the gallery again."

"You're imagining things again Peter. I'm tired, yes, but only because we have been trying to get more artists to show their works. And the headaches are from stress and tension. I'm OK, really. Please don't worry so much."

"I have to worry when you seem so distracted and distant. It makes we wonder Laurie. It makes me afraid that you seem to be drifting away. I don't know what to do except worry."

"Please don't Peter. I'm OK. I promise you. And I'm not drifting away. I love you Peter and only you. There's never been anyone else for me."

To make her point, she changed her mind and we made love. It was more like old times and I began to relax and accept her assurance. That was a mistake. I told myself later that her actions were more from guilt than from any attempt to try to get back to where we were. I began to think back to the actions of my mother. She tried to make up for her indiscretion by treating my father like a king, doing what she could for him and always being there for him. Much like Laurie was beginning to do.

Since our lives had become so predictable, Laurie and I both did the same things we had been doing with one exception. I began to work less and less and spend more time watching my Laurie. I would drive downtown to the gallery and sit across the street at a small café. I would watch the front door for a while, knowing that the back door led to a dead end alley and only the garbage trucks used it. It was not safe for cars or people to be back there since it was home to drug users and alcoholics. All deliveries came in the front door as did visitors or employees. I watched from my seat especially after closing time. Laurie never left until an hour or so later.

Several times, I watched Laurie come out accompanied by a young man I had never seen. He was usually carrying a large display satchel, one designed to carry sketches or small painting. He must be an artist. They would walk together, him carrying the satchel, Laurie with her hand on his free arm. I would watch them until they were a short distance down the street, then I exited the café and followed them. They usually stopped, talked intently for a few minutes then she got in her car and drove off. He watched her go, then walked away, heading for what I knew to be his flat. I had followed him twice to the same place.

After a few weeks of this behavior, I determined to meet this young man. I left work one afternoon and drove down to the gallery. I went in, just about closing time and greeted those employees I knew. They said their goodbyes as they left, leaving me standing there, alone in the store. Except that Laurie should be there as should the young man. I walked toward the back where I knew there was a large open space sometimes used as a display area for works to be marked for sale. As I entered that area, I saw Laurie and the young man standing closely together looking at something. I walked over slowly, making as little noise as possible until I was very close to them.

"This one is exquisite. I love it. Are you sure you want to sell it?" Laurie was standing with one hand on his arm, both looking at whatever was on the easel in front of them.

"I do not want to sell it; I had hoped you would accept it as a gift to show my affection for you." He put his hand over hers where she had it on his arm. It was a very tender action for someone who was supposed to be a client.

"I couldn't accept this Rafael! It's too precious. You'll get a fine price for it."

Rafael, if that was his name, moved his arm to place it around her shoulder. Laurie moved toward him and that was the moment I made a noise. Both of them jumped in surprise and turned around to find me standing immediately behind them. I watched his face as it showed surprise and irritation, while Laurie's surprise turned immediately to shame and embarrassment. Her face flushed red, and then slowly paled. "Peter! I didn't hear you come in. What are you doing here?"

I looked at her for a moment as I collected my thoughts. I was angry but not ready to let this young man know that I was. My delay was making her nervous and I decided to speak before she did. "I didn't know I needed a reason to visit my wife. Perhaps I should call ahead? Would that be more appropriate?"

"Of course not. This is your place as much as it is mine. Peter, I'd like to introduce you to Rafael Sanchez. He's showing his work with us this month and it's doing very well. We were just discussing his latest work." She pointed to a soft pastel painting of a woman, silks flowing around her body as she stood on a balcony. It appeared she was nude beneath the silks and there were tantalizing glimpses of her pale skin where the silks fluttered out. I looked carefully at the face and what I saw was an amazing likeness to my wife painted by someone who obviously felt more than a passing fancy for her. I felt my own blood rise up my neck and to my face as I slowly turned to face Rafael.

"Set your price for this one. I'll buy it from you. I do not want it on display. Do you understand?" I looked directly into his eyes, showing him my displeasure. I only hoped he was smart enough to see it and understand it.

He returned my look with his lips beginning to curl in arrogant amusement. He nodded as he acknowledged my intent. "I will allow you to make the offer. I will accept whatever you feel it is worth." That answer was a challenge to me and he expected me to fumble with my reply. I think not.

"The work is priceless. We both know that, but I will pay you $100 for your time and effort. That is far less than you would get if you put it out for display and far less than it is worth." I heard a gasp from Laurie but interestingly enough, no reaction from Sanchez. I continued, now raising my voice in anger. "But it is more than you deserve for the disrespect you show me." With that, I lifted the painting from the easel. I walked over to the worktable on the side of the room, picked up a knife designed to slit canvas with no tearing and sliced the painting out of the frame. I threw the frame away then rolled it up, turned to Laurie who was watching me with a look of horror on her face and said "I'll see you at home. Goodnight Mr. Sanchez."

With that I walked out of the room and out the door to find my car. The ride home was a blur of confusion. What had I witnessed tonight? I knew what I saw in his painting: his infatuation with Laurie, if that's what it was. But what did I see in her reaction to my appearance? That was more confusing. She reacted in guilt and embarrassment which indicated her thoughts were not those she would want me to know. That was a concern. I pulled into my driveway with no clear indication of what was happening.

Inside, I unrolled the painting and looked again at its subject. It took no imagination to see Laurie's face in the girl. The tilt of her head and the way her eyes looked back at whoever was behind her showed a coy awareness of her beauty, and the way she was dressed and the way the wind moved her garments cried seduction. But in Sanchez's mind, who was being seduced? It was clear to me. I took the painting into the living room and, using some tape, secured it to the painting over the mantle. I stood back to admire my work. Once again, it was clear to me that Rafael Sanchez was in love with my wife and saw her returning his love.

I was sitting in the same place when I heard the door open and Laurie's voice calling for me. I didn't bother to answer, my mind still trying to cope with the new directions open with my revelations tonight. I could hear her moving through the house, still calling my name until she walked into the room where I was sitting. She stopped, a small gasp indicating she had seen the painting. She walked slowly in to stand next to me where I sat in a straight backed chair facing the mantle and the painting.

"It's not what you think Peter. It isn't! It is just a work of art and one that I wanted him to hang in the gallery. That's all it was. I don't know what you thought when you said those terrible things to Rafael."

I looked up at her, to see if she really believed the words she was saying. She met my eyes only briefly before looking away. So! She was not telling me the truth and she knew I was aware of it. What else was she not telling me?

"Look at the painting! Look at the face! If you don't see it, you have no business owning an art gallery! The man is obsessed with you! He is in love with you! And you were aware of it and you were not discouraging him! Tell me I'm wrong!"

"You're wrong! You're wrong! He is an excellent artist and that's all. So it looks like me, so what? That doesn't mean anything. You're taking this out of all context!" She spun around and almost ran from the room. I remained where I was, my heart beginning to accept the hurt I knew was coming. Hadn't I lived through this once before? Hadn't I seen the betrayal? Hadn't my mother asked me to lie for her just as Laurie was asking me to accept her lies? Where was the difference?

As I walked into the kitchen to find a drink and something to eat, I felt the depression begin to take over. Again, I had experienced this before so it was all much like déjà vu'.

I was sitting at the table, holding an open bottle of beer and a cold sandwich of some mystery meat I had found in a tray in the refrigerator when Laurie came in. She had changed into jeans and a sweatshirt and her face showed determination. She apparently was determined to try to force the lie down my throat. Well, my mother tried that before and she was only partly successful. I would accept the lie but I would not accept the liar. We would live as I had lived before with my mother: she comfortable in her lies, and me comfortable in my shell. So be it!

So began three weeks of hell. I was firm in my commitment to accept her lies, but I was also firm in my commitment to not accept her. If she chose to live a lie, then I would live with her lies, but my way. She knew how I felt. We had this discussion before we were married and she had agreed that living with a lie was not acceptable in a marriage based on trust. She agreed! Now, she had betrayed me with her support of young Rafael Sanchez and his obsession with her as borne out in his painting! I knew the inevitable outcome of this and I simply waited for proof of her breaking her vows, just like my mother. She fell just as Laurie was heading for a fall.

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bythecelt© 109 comments/ 77696 views/ 22 favorites

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