All These YearsbySelena_Kitt©
Author's Note: This is based on the most haunting and painful song I've ever heard about infidelity called "All These Years" by Sawyer Brown. If you get a chance, take a listen, you'll hear what I mean. I hope I did it a little justice.
She likes adventure with security
And more than one man can provide…*
I'm supposed to tell you how old we were, how long we were married and all that stuff? You want to know how many kids we had, what we each did for a living, and just exactly how it all happened, down to the last rationalized detail, do I got that right? That's how these tales are spun?
Like it matters.
That kind of stuff was like the water all around, and I was just a fish in the bowl, bumping up against the glass.
I sure wasn't thinking about any of that on my way home, an awful ache in my belly from eating at some damned new Mexican place down the street for lunch. I'd asked a buddy to punch me out and left an hour early just to get home to the minimal comfort of my own toilet, and I wasn't sure I was going to make it, even then.
Molly's car was in the drive, and I smelled supper before I even opened the back door. Something experimental, I could tell already, thick and heavy with spice, and that made my bowels clench in agony as I passed the stove. The menu was on the refrigerator—she liked to print them out, for me, she said, so I'd know every day what we were having, no surprises, on thick white paper with funny dancing silverware on the top—but I didn't stop to read it.
I only had one thing on my mind. Two left turns, and I had my hand on the bathroom doorknob. I hadn't even stopped to wonder where she might be—the TV was off, but that wasn't unusual. Her laptop wasn't open on the kitchen table, either. No music was coming from the basement, where she had her elliptical and her rowing machine all set up. But I wasn't thinking about any of it—her routine, how she moved through her day without me there—it was like water, air, life. It just was.
And then, it wasn't.
A man knows the sound of his wife's pleasure. He knows it like he knows the sounds of his house settling, the ticking of the furnace, the creak in the boards by the stove. After a time, it becomes a familiar sound, a comfortable sound, one that carries heat and light, like the lamp that goes on by the front door every night at six.
I understood that sound, and how to elicit it, as well as I understood how to turn on the switch to the light above our bed. My fingers knew their way in the dark, where to touch and grope, just the right pressure, how to ease that tension past the point of resistance. It was an easy movement, practiced, sure. No surprises.
Dusk was settling outside. It was almost that time of year when we set the clocks back, and dark came earlier every day it seemed, so they were just shadows rolling under the covers until I turned the lights on. She knew I was there, I think, even before I flipped the switch. Something about her shifted, the sound of her changed, and for a moment her soft moan sounded like a lament.
"Jim…" My name in her mouth, the same mouth I had kissed a thousand times, a mouth cherry-red from kissing another man—the man poised above her in our bed.
My bowels turned to water in my belly. I turned out the light and bolted into the bathroom, barely making it to the bowl.
She said, "You're not the man you used to be…"
He said, "Neither is this guy…"
Not the fucking man I used to be. Right. Twenty pounds heavier, I was considerably balder and grayer, my hands calloused and work-worn. The man I used to be was younger, thinner, a little less rough around the edges, sure. At least on the outside.
But the man I used to be drank a fifth every night. The man I used to be liked to fight, anyone or anything, it didn't matter. It was the making of a fist that felt good. The man I used to be had left them all once, on a Christmas Eve, of all nights. The man I used to be had spent that night in a motel, considering options, points out west and beyond. That man had come home in time to see the kids open presents.
No, I wasn't the man I used to be. Thank fucking god. And neither was the guy shoving the tail ends of his dress shirt into his suit pants, glancing furtively at me as he gathered his tie and suit coat and slipped on his expensive shoes. I was never this guy—soft hands, soft life. What did she see in him? I watched from the doorway as he turned to face me fully for the first time, his eyes only holding mine for a moment before dropping to the floor.
"I'll call you—" he murmured, glancing at my wife.
"No, you won't." I stood fully, putting my hand across the door frame and blocking the exit. "What you will do is walk out of my house. And count yourself lucky for that. Walk out of my house, away from my wife, and if you ever…" I took a deep breath, swallowing hard, the hand by my side clenching into an involuntary fist. "If I ever see you… hear you… if I fucking SMELL you anywhere near me or my family again…"
I let the threat trail off and watched his eyes move from me to the space under my arm, and I knew he was thinking about running for it. I dropped my arm, stepping into the room, and waved him out. The urge I had to shove him through the wall was so strong I had to clasp my hands behind my back as he passed.
When I heard the side door swing shut, I turned back to my wife. She was still nude and hadn't moved to cover herself. Her body and her eyes made no apologies. Instead, she just looked incredibly sad. I sighed, sitting on the edge of the bed, and put my head in my hands.
All these years…
Where have I been?
Well, I've been down the road to work and home again…*
She couldn't answer my question. It was simple, really. "Why?"
Was it me? What had I missed? How had I failed her? Those thoughts occurred to me as I turned to her and asked that one, simple question. I saw the endless days, the routine that had become our life, stretching out behind us and disappearing into a vanishing point.
But we'd made it so far, I thought, looking at the tremble of my wife's mouth, the fists her hands made on the sheets. The various life dramas had never derailed our train. Yeah, I felt the same ice water needling in my chest when she told me about the lump in her breast, and there was the low ache of those two miscarriages between Henry and Clara.
And the worst, at least for me, was the time the baby ran out into the street and I couldn't catch her in time. It had been months afterwards, Molly sitting by her side in the hospital, and me, still back and forth to work every day, coming in exhausted at night to see the baby, little Sassy I always called her, so still and quiet and small. She recovered physically, but she never was quite right again. A lot of my paycheck still went to pay for the special school half a state away.
Was that the point when it had broken? I wondered. Like some crazy cracked cup that we superglued together and used anyway, hoping it wouldn't leak? Something in me knew, though. It wasn't any of the big things, the storms, the hurricanes that had hit us over the years. It was that endless, gentle lapping of the waves against the shore, wearing away the sand. Erosion. That's what they called it.
I looked at my wife and I wanted to touch her. I didn't know if I wanted to hold her or hit her, but I wanted to feel her in my hands, her familiar flesh under my fingers. I fought the urge, gripping the edge of the mattress as I watched her face change—sadness, fear, regret, love. So much love. Still. After all these years.
"I just want to know why, Molly."
That's when the dam broke. The leak became a deluge and she spilled past the cracks that I hadn't even seen in the surface of our marriage.
All these years…
What have I done?
I made your supper and your daughter and your son…*
"Do you remember last year, when my sister offered us her timeshare?"
I stared at Molly, knowing that she was going to make some impossible connection, and just nodded.
"What did you say, Jim? Do you remember?"
I shrugged. "What does that have to do with… anything?!"
Molly's lip trembled and she nodded. "You said, 'Why do we need to go somewhere for a vacation? What's wrong with staying home?'"
I blinked at her. "Are you telling me that you were fucking some suit in our bed because I didn't want to go to Disney World?"
Molly sighed, closing her eyes and then opening them to me again. "You always miss the point."
"I guess you got my fucking attention!" I snapped, gritting my teeth.
She sat up on her elbows, her eyes flashing. "Well, it's about time!"
My chest was too tight for me to speak. I curled my fingers around the mattress edge and took a deep breath.
"Jim…" Her eyes dipped down and caught mine. They were the same bright blue, eyes that had caught mine a thousand times before this one, but today there was something new there. I didn't know what it was and I didn't know if I wanted to know. "Where have you been?"
I shook my head at her, trying to clear it. What did she want from me? "Work. Where I always am." I couldn't get the image of her beneath him out of my head.
She sighed. "Yeah." Shifting onto her side, the sheet pulled over her hip, and her breasts dipped, too. I looked at the large, brown areolas, her nipples fat in the center, and wondered if he had found that sweet spot at the bottom edge. I closed my eyes, hating how beautiful she still was to me in that moment.
"But Jim…" she sighed. "Where have I been?"
"I don't know," I murmured. "You tell me."
I felt her hand moving over mine, soft and warm, her fingers as delicate as ever. "I don't know, either. Raising kids, making supper, the same thing, day after day… I don't know who I even am anymore…" I allowed it for a moment, just a moment's worth of pressured comfort, before shaking her loose.
"Maybe you need some time to find out?" I saw that there were tears in her eyes and only the smallest part of me cared. "Is this your version of a mid-life crisis, Moll? The cooking lessons, the computer classes…" I stopped, something suddenly dawning on me. "That's where you met him, isn't it?"
"Yes," she agreed softly. "But it doesn't matter. He doesn't matter."
I snorted, swallowing past something stuck in my throat. "He looked like he mattered when he was fucking you in our bed."
I don't know if the pained look on her face matched mine or not. It felt awful, saying it, feeling it. I wanted to say more, and I wanted it to stop, to end it, to leave right now and never look back. Staying was the hardest thing I'd ever done.
Just sitting there in the pain of it, the both of us, drowning in the flood.
I'm still here…
And so confused,
But I can finally see how much I stand to lose…*
I don't know how long it was before we spoke again. It grew dark outside, dark inside, in spite of the lamp light. My belly ached, my balls were drawn up like two rocks, and Molly shivered, but she still didn't cover herself. I thought I knew why. She just looked at me, like she was waiting for something. I was waiting, too. I didn't know for what, until it happened.
The timer in the kitchen sounded with three short, sharp blasts. Dinner was ready. Menu was on the fridge. It was time for me to walk through the door, home from work, ready for Molly's embrace and a quick kiss before I got changed and ready to eat whatever she'd concocted for the evening meal. I had taken to picking up two beef jerkys at the gas station and eating them on the way home, just in case. Of course, I didn't tell her that. Keeping the little things secret had never seemed to matter.
"I hate the crap you're cooking lately." I gave a quarter turn toward her on the bed.
She nodded. Almost smiled. "I know."
"I could kill you with my bare hands."
"I know." Her mouth trembled again, but no tears fell. "I thought… I don't know what I thought. I wasn't… thinking…" Her voice was thick, trembling, too.
"I want…" I held my hands out in front of me, palms up, just looking at them. "Fuck, Molly… what are we going to do?"
She slipped her hand into one of mine, using my steadfast weight to pull her to sitting beside me, the sheet pooled in her lap.
"I don't know." Her voice was hoarse. "Will you hold me?"
I shook my head, swallowing thickly, still seeing him, like a ghost, hovering over our bed. But I did. I pulled her familiar body into my arms and held on. She melted into me, like she always did, fitting perfectly in all the right places.
"This doesn't mean—" I started, brushing her hair off my cheeks. "I don't know what this means."
She nodded, and I could feel the edges of her pain flowing into mine, somehow, as if they were one thing. Love didn't stop, like turning off a light switch, as much as I willed it to.
"It doesn't matter…" she whispered. I could feel her tears wetting my shirt. "Nothing matters, except you… Jim… I'm so…"
"Don't say it," I choked, lowering my head to hers, holding her a little too tight. "Don't… just… don't…"
She didn't and I didn't and we didn't… we just sat, and rocked, and felt it, the love and the pain that ached like a raw wound between us. It was us. After all those years, there was no separating it anymore.
*All These Years by Sawyer Brown
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