Devil Inside

Story Info
A struggle for the soul of a marriage.
17.7k words
Share this Story

Font Size

Default Font Size

Font Spacing

Default Font Spacing

Font Face

Default Font Face

Reading Theme

Default Theme (White)
You need to Log In or Sign Up to have your customization saved in your Literotica profile.

Note: You can change font size, font face, and turn on dark mode by clicking the "A" icon tab in the Story Info Box.

You can temporarily switch back to a Classic Literotica® experience during our ongoing public Beta testing. Please consider leaving feedback on issues you experience or suggest improvements.

Click here

He sanded the wood, blew a little on the surface, and contemplated the winding path of darkness on the tawny wood of the keel. Definitely a crack, but the nature-or-nurture question remained. If the crack was at the surface level, he could fill it with epoxy and sand it. If the crack ran through the board, that meant the wood was just bad wood, and he would have to rebuild the boat to replace the doomed piece.

Richard Thomas looked back to the warm buttery glow of the house lights a hundred yards away as darkness began to infuse the air around him. Having put it off as long as he could, he started the trudge back to his joyless household.

Once upon a time, things had been more promising.

He married Karen Johnson, his high school sweetheart, shortly after college. She would not have even talked to a guy like him who came from a broken home, but she met him at a mixer at their church, which preached free markets and social justice.

"Be nice to the broken home kids," said her father, a psychologist. "They're more like feral animals because life has abused them. Don't expect them to care about helping others, only me-firsting." Karen steered away from most of them, but when staring out into space, accidentally locked eyes with Richard.

"Hey," he said to her in passing. She saw a reasonably muscular boy with bright blue eyes and honey-colored hair, reasonably handsome, and slightly above average height at an inch short of six feet. She knew him to be a bit of a crack-up in class who still got fairly good grades and had made himself some kind of boat that won an award. He scared her because his father was an oil company executive, and those were evil people according to her parents, and she knew Richard as a blunt, outspoken guy who often left hurt feelings in his wake.

"Hey yourself," she said with typical teenage irreverence. He saw a slender girl with an innocent face, unreadable grey eyes, and and bright auburn hair. She carried herself elegantly, like a dancer, and had some muscle from playing field hockey, and he knew she got high grades but was quiet in class, as if waiting for some reason to step out of her shell. An inch short of his height, she seemed lively but unwilling to offer much of herself to the world, although he suspected that if she ever got confident enough to have her own opinions she would have much insight.

They talked for the rest of the night, covering every random topic possible interwoven with the predictable getting-to-know-you ones. Karen went home that night in a state of sublime confusion.

Like most of her generation, Karen had no idea what "love" was or its relationship to attraction and lust. She got one vision from the classic books they read at school, another from Hollywood and popular music, and still another from the church and her parents.

In movies, the handsome man and beautiful woman met in some awkward situation, then started arguing in what her aunt the psychologist called a "co-dependent relationship," but eventually tumbled into bed together and in the morning, discovered they were in love. The books she was assigned in school praised the men and women who shrugged off social pressures to remain virtuous, then met their true love and companion in the midst of doing something selfless. Her parents emphasized finding a man with a good career who would not break up the family but also refused to treat her unequally.

She had never seen Richard as anything but one of the kids who she would leave behind with the rest of high school, but she felt something that might be a desire to make him like her, approve of her, even desire her. Karen and Richard ended up dating during the last year of high school, that bittersweet time when people know that imminent adulthood would split up old friendships and loves.

She knew that Richard scared her too. Once in history class, the teacher noticed that most students were catatonic or asleep, and rounded on Richard with a question about Hitler and Stalin.

"Tyrants mistake what they are for who they could have been," said Richard. "Stalin, a former bank robber, confused power with being important and turned his country into a bureaucratic dictatorship that killed thirty million of its people through sheer incompetence. Hitler, an artist, confused his popularity with being morally right, and started a war that devastated his country. A good leader rules for the sake of his people, not for the sake of his own power or self-image."

The teacher wrinkled his brow. Half of the class had perked up. "But what about the war crimes, the genocides, and the oppression?"

Richard chuckled. "History is written in blood, cruelty, and extermination because these are the only signals that wake people up. Otherwise, they just follow their own inertia. Hitler was like Robespierre, a 'true believer' who ended up executing everyone who disagreed because he needed to believe his ideology was true. Stalin was more like Genghis Khan, a glorified criminal or third world warlord who knew his ideology was nonsense and was able to survive it as a result, mostly by sacrificing others. They're almost as bad as our current leaders, who are doing the same to us, just more slowly."

Karen realized in that moment that there was something about Richard which she could not tame. She liked domesticated men like her father who followed the rules: when her mother had needs, he met them, and if he disagreed, he bit his lip and grudgingly carried it out. Her two parents were equals and discussed every decision together. Richard in comparison looked like some kind of feral animal which acted purely from its gut instinct and heart, and she knew this could not be controlled, but she also knew in her gut that he was the only man she could ever truly love.

"You need to date other boys," said her mother, Beverly. "You can't go through your life having bonded with only one man. That will always be an unequal relationship with him having the upper hand. He needs to know that there are absolute rules that he cannot break. A marriage is just like a small social group, where unless you stake out power for yourself, you will be forced to conform to what others want."

And so Karen found herself putting her name out there and dating other boys. She never got further than heavy petting and oral sex, having learned early on that the best way to end a date without getting naked was to affectionately slurp on a penis. This made her moderately more popular, and she finished high school on a high note. If Richard noticed her skills improving, he never questioned why or at least, never said anything.

Richard got a full scholarship to the same local university she was attending, but Karen's mother decided to experience a wider range of sexual partners. No one was fooled by her "working late" or "girls' night out." The marriage disintegrated like a sparrow hit by a space shuttle, scattering Karen and her brothers to to different apartments on either end of the city with varying degrees of not enough money.

Finally she understood what Richard had endured, except that since his father was an executive for one of the big oil companies, they had possessed more money than her parents, a school psychologist and middle school history teacher. She escaped the genteel middle class poverty and disorder of her home life into marriage with Richard. He got his first major job, and the children started coming: Daniel when Richard was still at entry-level, and Kaya, Robert, and Suzanne after each time he got promoted. Soon they had a nice house in a decent suburb.

"Are you content?" Richard asked Karen one night.

"I think so," she said. "I'm not sure that's the question. Are you happy?"

"Happy..." he said. "I don't believe in it." He read to her from the book he was reading, an old favorite of his that she never really liked:

"You're a rotten driver," I protested. "Either you ought to be more careful, or you oughtn't to drive at all."

"I am careful."

"No, you're not."

"Well, other people are," she said lightly.

"What's that got to do with it?"

"They'll keep out of my way," she insisted. "It takes two to make an accident."

"Suppose you met somebody just as careless as yourself."

"I hope I never will," she answered. "I hate careless people. That's why I like you."

"We are each responsible for our own happiness," said Richard. "It's about being responsible to your own true self. You have to make yourself good so that you can like yourself, and only then can you appreciate what life is really about."

She looked at this man as if she barely knew him. "Seems joyless."

"Not at all, just a realistic outlook," said Richard, lighting his pipe. "What you are, your job and how others see you, is not who you are. You choose to become who you are. Even love is a choice. As Siddhartha would say, external events are neither happy nor sad, but thinking makes it so."

Time moved on and they both forgot that conversation as it slipped into history.

By her mid-thirties, Karen presided over a brood that was starting to be mature enough to look out for itself. As parents find out, by the time the kids hit puberty, your window of opportunity to teach them much of anything has passed. They are then launching into adulthood, even if just the early stages, and make decisions for themselves, based in part on whatever they learned from their parents to the degree that they trust their parents to teach.

Richard had made the transition from having a job, where he showed up and did what others told him he should, to being a business owner, which meant spending most of his waking moments thinking about how to maneuver his company into position where there would be enough money to acquire a stable market niche where it could expand. He now had three employees, two negotiators and an office manager.

His office manager, Sue Scott, came to him straight out of graduate school. She had gotten her MFA in creative writing only to find that the insular little community which approved the "next big thing" in literature had clear tastes and she, who liked both the classics and ancient texts -- her undergraduate degree was in Classics -- for their eternal themes, was not going to make it in a world of the latest ironic styles and personality quirks.

"What do you hope to accomplish here?" said Richard, without looking up.

Sue (she disliked the name Susan, which she thought sounded like furniture) looked up at him with bright grey-blue eyes. "Mr. Thomas, I like to speak plainly," she said after a few moments. "I need a job that I won't hate. My degree is somewhat worthless, so I'm starting over, and I want to learn the practical skill of running a business so someday I can start a cat rescue and not have it go bankrupt like most of them do within a few years. I'm here because of all the places I called, the people here seemed real and everyone has been honest with me."

Richard thought. "You're hired," he said.

"What--" she colored and then withdrew her eyes.

"No, it's not for your... um... appearance. We are professionals here and we don't do that because it would damage another human being. I'll warn you, I'm not a sensitive man, I'm a caveman, but I like fair play. No, you took a big risk with that answer, said the plain truth, and seem highly competent based on your undergraduate work and part-time jobs, so I'm going to bet on you."

Although she had a rocky start, having to learn what was basically a new language for business, she picked up the business quickly once she got her footing. Richard had not been attracted to her at first, although she was an attractive "girl next door" with a slender graceful face and lithe body, but once he came to rely on her daily he saw her as intelligent and diligent. However, he was committed to his marriage, his business, and his concept of "fair play," which meant that he wouldn't cross that line, especially for someone a few years younger than himself and financially vulnerable.

"What?" she said to him one day.

"I'm sorry?" he said.

"You were looking at me like you wanted to say something," she said, apparently oblivious to the deep smoky gaze from her boss that he had momentarily forgotten to hide.

"Ah, just thinking over this client meeting," he temporized.

It turned out to be fortunate, because later that week she showed up with her boyfriend Alex. He was a dancer, muscular like a boa constrictor, and agile enough to balance on one foot on the rail above their two-story conference room. Richard went home and took a cold shower, realizing for the first time the pain of temptation, and the satisfaction of turning it down. He had been tested and had prevailed.

Life went on, and soon he was lost again in building up his company, the first attempt at renovating the old sailboat his grandfather left him, and taking care of the kids. He quickly forgot about Sue except as a colleague and was thankful for it.

With more free time on her hands, Karen took a job at the advertising firm where her uncle worked. The offspring were already busy like adults: sports, rock bands, art classes, ballet, debate, and martial arts after school, then on their phones or doing homework until midnight.

She started as an administrative assistant. During her second week there, the manager above her quit, and before Karen knew it, she had stepped into the role. That required that she spend at least ten hours a day at the office, but by getting up early she could make it and her husband, who got home early, could make dinner for the kids.

She shared her fears with her mother, Beverly. "I feel like I'm shifting into two people. One is at home, where there is no glory, just more socks to wash. The other is my career, where I am rising rapidly, and now I wish I could move into the city."

"That's a necessary part of growing up," her mother said. "You have beat back the inequality of being a woman, refused to let yourself be defined by who you are and the roles society have set out for you, and now what you are matters. You are a part of this economy and culture, and you're important now, moreso than that loser you married."

"He's not a loser," said Karen. "He went back and got his JD/MBA and now is running a firm of negotiators. We live very comfortably."

"Yes, but who's going to remember him when he dies?" said her mother. "He's another blank face in a suit and tie. You, on the other hand, are breaking boundaries with a job that is both progressive and soon, immensely profitable. Your life is made significant by what you are and what you are doing."

Beverly was still working the same job at the school district where she met the man who she intended to become her second husband. It turned out however that his wife was willing to forgive his transgressions, so he went back to her and never ran away with Bev as they had planned. She ended up living alone but enjoying a vigorous social life and was featured in several local magazines for her work in bringing Christian compassion to the underprivileged.

When Karen dropped off a casserole to her father, who lived in the apartment he could afford after alimony and child support, he expressed wariness. "Don't let a job ever become your soul. They're not worth it. You're who you are with the job or without it, and the family is just the bonus. You'll always be my smart, loving, kind, little girl. Take it from me: I gave too many years to the job, church, and politics. I wish I'd spent that time making more connections with people. If you want to be famous, write a book or something."

Now Karen wandered in doubt within the catacombs of her mind. She had never been one of those kids that everyone knew and talked about, just a wallflower, albeit a top-scoring and highly respected one. While Richard provided a good income and was a loving father, he was not like the men she read about in the news who were inventing new social media, making rocketships, or running non-profits that made micro-loans to starving people in the third world.

Karen found herself promoted again as the company fragmented in response to a potential merger. Half of the staff left out of disgust at being absorbed by its competition, but to Karen, the move was brilliant because it more than doubled their market share. She took over the positions vacated by the defectors. When she presented her ideas to her boss, Jeb Sheehan, he visibly brightened at the potential benefit of her new marketing direction that united sound capitalist wisdom with human rights activism and insisted that she work with him directly.

Soon she found herself spending more time at the office. Her family, like all organic things, adapted. Daniel did more of the cooking, as did Richard. The younger ones helped with washing vegetables and cleaning the house. They were all proud of her, she thought, although she sensed some hesitation from her spouse. During this time, she got closer to Jeb, and they ended up having a close working relationship as they reorganized the bloated company into a tough fighting crew aiming for market dominance.

Her friends barely recognized her. Karen had updated her wardrobe and spent an hour every morning in her home elliptical gym. She knew she looked like a million bucks because heads turned when she came into a room. The former wallflower of her high school days had not only broken the glass ceiling and crushed inequality, but had become desired for her mind, body, and personality. Her family receded to the status of a line in her biography.

Richard observed this from a distance, having seen it many times in his day job. After all, his mother had left to be an executive vice president in Bangkok, but he never told Karen that. What was first a nagging in his gut became a heaviness, then an emptiness, and finally a contortion. He began to notice he was short of breath sometimes, like he had forgotten to breathe, and that he frequently felt a cramp in his gut.

"You know," Richard said, one day when they were cutting up green beans for Saturday dinner, "I always try to apply the wife test at work. If I'm doing something, and you were to walk in and be upset by what I was doing, I wouldn't want to do it. That even includes being behind closed doors alone with a female colleague."

"Oh honey, I wouldn't care," said Karen absent-mindedly, and Richard saw in that moment how her outlook had changed. There was no jealousy, which meant that she longer cared enough for him to possess him and exclude all others. For love to exist, Richard knew, it had to be jealous, otherwise it was merely using another person for convenience.

"It's a good rule," he said. "I mean, if you want to keep your spouse happy. Are you happy, Karen?"

Karen said nothing. They fed the kids, watched a terrible action film that delighted everyone with its crude action, and then retired to bed. Richard spooned around Karen and tried to engage her, but she pulled away. "Not now," she said with the same voice she would use with a subordinate. She turned over and by the little booklight, began going through a binder of documents related to the upcoming merger at her company.

Richard slipped into an uneasy sleep. He knew from science class that when a female rejected the sperm of a male, it meant that she regarded another male as having higher status and would never go back to the old one unless her gambit failed. Having grown up on the idea that love meant forsaking all others instead of constantly being on the lookout for a new opportunity, he found her response troubling. He faded into an uneasy sleep in which dark thoughts and images jarred him.

When Karen got up, he was nowhere to be found, but soon he came running up the driveway. Over the next few weeks, Richard worked up to running five miles a day, worked out in their home gym in the garage, and upgraded his old slouchy wardrobe. That Saturday night, a sitter appeared, and he took Karen to her favorite Italian restaurant, a movie, and a sleek new outsider club for drinks and dancing. She danced with him twice, then checked her phone and said they should go home.