tagLoving WivesHouse of Cards Ch. 06

House of Cards Ch. 06


My heart was racing so fast as I drove away that I had to force myself to slow down, to breathe deeply, not to drive 80 mph or run through red lights. I had no idea where I was going, no idea what I was going to do next.

It almost made me laugh. "I don't know what to do in the next five minutes; and I don't know what to do with the rest of my life."

At that moment there were only two things I was sure of. The first was that I still loved Marianne. I still wanted, despite everything, to be married to her.

But the second was that I absolutely could not imagine any way of getting past what she had done. I couldn't even begin to see how I could get over this, how I could stop being so angry and hurt that I wanted just to yell at her, to make her cry.

How would I ever be able to make love to her again? Even thinking about kissing her, I heard her in my mind kissing Eddie, or saying "God, it's so big, and so hard, and so beautiful!" I imagined them in the shower together, or lounging around Eddie's apartment after sex, relaxing and looking forward to the next time.

She had taken something she promised to share only with me—her most personal, intimate and vulnerable self—and given it to another man. No matter what else ever happened between us, it could never be just for me again.

It was even clearer to me now than before that it wasn't the fucking itself that mainly mattered. Had she just had that hot quickie outside the dance club, I know I would have been able to get over it. Not without some serious anger and pain, but I'm certain I could have put it behind me. And if I felt it necessitated some revenge, by way of a quickie with someone else on my part, well then Marianne would just have had to deal with it.

But the sustained relationship she had had with Eddie—the familiarity and intimacy that had developed between them over eight months—the depth of that betrayal took my breath away.

And there was an additional element: the sense of humiliation I felt at having been deceived for so long. For eight months my wife had been happily having sex with me, sharing caresses and loving words with me. Then she'd been getting out of my bed and going off to do the same thing with another man. How could she not have been thinking of him, some of the time she was making love with me? How could she not have started to think less of me, knowing that she had this secret, this power over me?

I found myself driving past a bar on Front St. that I had been in a few times before. For lack of anything better to do, I went in, sat at the bar, and had a beer. On the TV the Indians game was in the 4th inning. They were already losing by six runs. "Typical," I said to myself, thinking that my life was going sort of like the Indians game—or their season.

After two beers, I got up and headed back to my apartment. I had considered getting drunk, but it didn't appeal to me. I realized on the drive that I hadn't even looked around the bar to see if there were any women there. It may be that some cuckolded husbands immediately think of revenge, of tearing off a piece with someone else, but that didn't seem to interest me at all.

That night I had another nightmare, worse than the previous one. Marianne and I were in our bedroom, making love. First she was lying back, purring happily, smiling at me, as I sucked on her nipples and caressed her pussy with my fingers. Then, at her urging, I climbed onto her and began to fuck her gently in the missionary position. It was unhurried and relaxed, and we were both enjoying it. But after a couple of minutes I looked around and realized that our bed was now on a stage in an auditorium, and the hall was filled with hundreds of people watching us. I began to feel pressure to please Marianne, and I fucked her more energetically, kissing her and licking her neck. But something had changed—she was no longer enjoying it, and the harder I tried to give her pleasure, the more bored she looked.

Then suddenly a man with a clipboard came up to the bed, shouted "Time!", and a couple of guys pulled me out of the bed and off to the side. Another man walked onto the stage, his erect cock waving in front of him, and jumped into bed with Marianne. She greeted him eagerly, with an excited smile, and in no time they were fucking. From the very beginning Marianne was more enthusiastic and involved with him than she had been with me. He was getting her more and more excited, and her moans were so loud they could be heard throughout the auditorium. She looked only at him, never once even glancing at me. With each of his thrusts she rotated her hips, trying to get him deeper into her. I could hear the audience's rising excitement. Just as the man with the clipboard approached the bed she reached an enormous orgasm, crying out "Oh my God! Oh Eddie! My God! yes, fuck me!" It seemed that Eddie came just as she did.

After the two lovers collapsed in each other's arms, the clipboard man called "Time!" and the audience burst into a sustained ovation. They got up from the bed, naked and sweaty, waved to the audience with big grins on their faces, and walked off-stage arm in arm, leaving me forgotten and alone on the other side of the stage.

When I woke up I was agitated and disoriented. As sometimes happens after nightmares, it took a minute or two before I had any idea where I was, and before I realized that it had just been an awful dream. I dragged myself into the shower and tried to calm down.

When I got to work my friend Steve intercepted me before I even reached my office. "How are you, Tom? Andrea and I have been thinking of you. Have you got a minute?"

He came into my office and shut the door. "Is there anything we can do, Tom?"

I shook my head. "Thanks, Steve. I'm okay. I'm certainly not happy, but I'm surviving."

He said, "I wanted you to know that Andrea spoke to Marianne last night—it must have been after you left the house. They had a long conversation, and Andrea wondered if she could have lunch with you and tell you about it."

I thought for a minute. "I guess that's OK, Steve. Why don't you ask her to meet me here at 12:30. Do you want to join us?"

"I don't think so. I have the feeling that it will be easier for Andrea to talk to you without anyone else there—even me."

I thanked Steve and tried to focus on my work for the rest of the morning.

When Andrea arrived, we went to a luncheonette nearby and ordered, then she sat back and looked at me.

"Tom, you know I am so very sorry about what has happened. And I want to help, but I don't want to do anything that feels intrusive and inappropriate to you. Steve and I care about both you and Marianne, and we are just so sad for you both."

"Thank you, Andrea. I know you care for both of us, and I certainly don't mind your having talked to Marianne. I'm angry at her, but I love her too—I don't want her to lose her friends over this."

Andrea paused for a moment, then spoke. "Would it be all right if I told you some of what Marianne and I discussed last night?" I nodded.

"Well, Tom, as you must know she's absolutely devastated. One of the things you may not realize is that throughout this affair, she was completely convinced that you would never find out about it. Of course she knew the cheating was wrong—it was terrible, Tom! I still don't know what the hell she was thinking!" Her eyes flashed, and I could tell she was furious at Marianne too. I was grateful to Andrea for feeling that way.

"But the way she justified it to herself was by telling herself that you would never ever know about it, and so you would never be hurt. Because of that, she had never thought through what finding out about the affair would do to you. Your wife is a smart woman, but she was spectacularly dumb about this, I'd have to say."

"So what that means now, to put it bluntly, is that she has a lot of catching up to do. She feels terribly guilty and sad, she knows that she has hurt you badly, she is unhappy and frightened that you've left the house, and she's terrified about the future of your marriage. But even now, Tom, I don't think she fully understands how and why this is so painful for you."

I looked at Andrea as I thought about this, and as the waitress brought our sandwiches. An idea occurred to me, and I filed it away to think about later. "That makes sense, Andrea. But it's not clear to me what I'm supposed to do about it."

"Just keep talking with her, Tom. If your marriage is going to survive, the two of you are going to have to discuss every aspect of this, explore all the feelings each of you has, and hope that you can reach some resolution and some reconciliation. I'm no therapist, but I don't see it working any other way. Certainly if feelings of anger or guilt get swept under the rug, they're going to eat away at the two of you until they destroy your relationship."

"You are probably right," I replied. "In fact I've been thinking some of the same things. I guess I'll call Marianne and set up another time for us to talk. Thank you, Andrea. Were there other things that came up in your conversation with her that I should know about?"

"Yes, Tom, two things above all. The first is simply that she loves you desperately. She's beside herself with fear that she's lost you, that your marriage won't survive this. It's not just that she feels guilty, though of course she does. She also is suffering because the man she loves is suffering."

I had to close my eyes for a moment, feeling the pain rush back. I tried to smile at Andrea. "I guess we both know WHY the man she loves is suffering, don't we?" I attempted a light-hearted tone, but I didn't really succeed.

Andrea took my hand. "Yes, we both know, Tom," she said gently.

After a quiet minute, I asked, "what's the second thing?"

"It's that she's willing to do absolutely anything to save your marriage, but she doesn't have any idea what to do. I tell you, Tom, if cutting off her left arm would do it, she'd probably have the knife out already. But she really doesn't even know where to begin the process of making up for this."

I sighed. "Well, last night was certainly a first step. As she must have mentioned to you, she told me pretty much the whole story of the affair: how it began, when and where they met, etc. Hearing it was every bit as bad as I imagined it would be, but at least I know the facts now."

Andrea asked me another question. "DO you have any idea what you'd like her to do at this point?"

"No, no idea at all. As you said a few minutes ago, she and I are going to have to talk and talk. But beyond that I don't know what to suggest. I'll tell you, Andrea, I've thought of some wild things: I could go on an exotic vacation without her, I could go out and get myself laid, I could fight her for custody of the kids when they come back from camp at the end of the summer, I could even move away and get a new job somewhere else—crazy things like that. But they all feel like pointless attempts to cause her pain, and none of them appeals to me in the least."

"I'd wondered about going out and getting laid, Tom. Certainly no one would think any less of you if you did that."

"I don't know why, Andrea, but I just don't want to. I don't seem to have any interest in sleeping with anybody else right now. And of course, I don't have any interest in sleeping with Marianne, either—I can't even imagine it without my mind filling with images of her with Eddie."

Andrea brushed away a couple of tears. "I guess maybe that must be one of the worst things, Tom. The fact that making love together, which could be such a healing thing for a couple, would just pull the wounds wide-open again."

"Yes," I said, "and I don't have any idea if that will ever stop being true. If we can't get past that problem, there's no way our marriage will survive."

We were quiet for a few moments, each of us thinking our own thoughts. I realized that the two things Andrea had told me about Marianne matched perfectly the two thoughts I had had the previous night. First, she loved me, as I still loved her. And second, neither of us had any idea about how to get past our current problems, though we both wanted to.

I paid the check and we got up to leave. On our walk back from the restaurant I said, "Thank you, Andrea. You are a true friend—I value your support so much, and that of Steve. You guys have been terrific."

"All we want is for you and Marianne to find a way to be happy again. Please let us know if there's anything we can do. Would you like to come over for dinner sometime this weekend?

"Thanks—let me think about what I'll be doing, and I'll give you a call."

After we said our good-byes I went back to my office. Sitting on my desk was a wrapped present, about the size of a small tissue box. When I unwrapped it I found a small jack-in-the box, with childish colorful designs painted on it. I smiled, then turned the crank. With a loud "bang" the lid flew open, and up popped a clown head with a wide smile on its face. Tied around its neck with a little piece of a thread was a note saying "Hang in There!"

I laughed, probably for the first time in three weeks, and I saw Alice's smiling face peeking around the door watching me. "This is great! Was this from you?" I asked.

"Just a little something from a few of us who care about you," she answered.

"Well I love it! I'm going to pop this guy up every little while for the rest of the day!" I said with a smile. "Please give my thanks to everyone for this."

I closed my office door. After popping up my new toy a couple more times, for luck, I dialed Marianne's office number. When she answered I said, "Hi, it's me."

"Hi, Tom." She seemed pleased to hear from me, but also wary. I guess that was not hard to understand, given how I had left her the previous night.

"I had a good talk with Andrea today," I said. "Do you think that you and I could get together tonight and talk some more?"

"Of course," she said, less wary now. "May I cook you dinner this time?"

"No, I think I don't want to come back to the house tonight. How would you feel about coming to my apartment, and I'll make something?"

After a moment she said, "that would be great, Tom!" I gave her the address and we agreed to meet at 6:30. Then, without any further conversation, I told her I needed to get back to work, and we said goodbye.

I left work early to get some groceries and prepare dinner. I realized that I wanted to impress Marianne, to cook her a dinner far better than she would expect I could manage. That interested me. I guessed that I was seeking to find a way to feel more in control. Her affair and her deception had made me a victim—a humiliating position to be in. Inviting her to my apartment, like making the dinner myself, represented steps by me to take charge of the situation. That seemed like a good thing. I continued to think about the plan that had occurred to me during my lunch with Andrea.

When she arrived I showed her directly to the table. I had made spaghetti with a white clam sauce (with fresh clams in it), an elaborate salad with mandarin orange slices, and garlic bread. I had considered a nice bottle of wine as well, and flowers on the table, but then rejected both of those angrily. This wasn't a date, dammit! I settled for two simple place-settings, and water for each of us.

As she sat down Marianne looked around the dreary apartment and said, gamely, "this is nice".

"It's just a basic furnished apartment, Marianne. Not much personality—purely functional, though it is nice and clean. You don't have to try to praise it." I hadn't meant to put her down, but she seemed a bit cowed by my words, maybe feeling that I was being sarcastic, and we ate silently for a few minutes.

Then she spoke again. "Tom, I hope you don't mind my saying so, but this is a marvelous dinner! I haven't been giving you enough credit for your cooking! The clams are just delicious, and I love the salad."

"Thank you Marianne. I certainly haven't been eating like this all the time, but tonight I felt like doing something more ambitious."

She looked at me a bit fearfully. "Do you think you'll be ... staying in this apartment a long time?" I knew what that meant, of course—it meant, When will you be coming home?

"I just don't know, honey." I stopped suddenly, uncomfortable that I had addressed her by a familiar endearment. "Marianne, I don't know what's going to happen next. I know that I love you, and I want our marriage to survive." She broke into a smile, though at the same time I could see tears threatening to flow from her eyes.

"But I don't know what we'll have to do to make that happen. Inviting you here to talk some more seemed like the right next step."

She squeezed her eyes shut for a moment, and the tears dropped onto her cheeks. Then without a word she took my hand across the table, pulled it to her, and fervently kissed the back of it. The loving gesture was so familiar to me. I remembered that the last time she had done it was while we were driving back from our Lake Forbes picnic, the day after I'd found her panties and first learned of her affair. That seemed like a decade ago.

Marianne held onto my hand; she sat up straight, her cheeks still glistening, and looked straight at me. "Tom, I want you to know something. I will do anything, and I mean ANYTHING, to make up for this. I know that the pain you're suffering is all my fault, and I ... and I ..."

Suddenly she couldn't speak any more, and a moment later she was sobbing, her head buried in her hands, her shoulders shaking. Without thinking I went around the table, pulled her to her feet and took her in my arms. She cried hard for several minutes as I held her tightly, her face nestled into my shoulder. At that moment I didn't feel the pain of my situation—I was only aware of how good it felt to have Marianne in my arms.

When her crying had subsided, she raised her head to look at me. It seemed that she wanted to kiss me, but didn't dare. She said, "Thank you Tom, for holding me. I didn't know I was going to cry, it just ... sneaked up on me."

Without replying I got out a tissue and gently wiped the tears off her face, then helped her back into her chair. I realized that once again I had taken action —without thinking about it I had embraced her and comforted her—and that it had felt good.

"Do you think you can still enjoy the rest of dinner?" I asked. She nodded, and I said, "Good, because I made a blueberry pie for dessert." I enjoyed her look of pleasure and surprise.

After dinner we took our coffee cups and sat on the sofa in my tiny living room. "That was a lovely meal, Tom—thank you so much." Marianne clearly didn't know what would happen next; and of course, neither did I.

"Thank you, Marianne. For some reason I wanted to impress you. One of the things that has been bothering me about our whole situation is the way I feel like the passive victim. Things have been done TO me. I think that by inviting you here, and by showing you that I could do more than cook a hot dog, I'm trying to take an active role in ... resolving, or trying to resolve, our situation."

I went on. "I have a million things I feel the need to talk about with you—to say to you, or to ask. And they're all jumbled in my mind, without any sense of order. So I'm just going to talk about whatever pops up, without worrying too much if it's logical." She nodded her agreement.

"One place to start is how I'm feeling about your cheating, and your lying to me. When I spoke to Andrea today, she felt that you hadn't yet really come to understand all that I've been feeling. And I certainly know that before we can come out the other end of this, you're going to have to know—and acknowledge —everything that is upsetting me."

"So here is one thing. Not necessarily the biggest or most important, but one thing: you made me a sucker. For eight months you've been fucking another man, meeting him regularly, developing an intimate relationship with him; and I've been totally in the dark. While I was thinking that I was the only man you were close to, you've been able to feel the delicious pleasure of your secret. When I kissed you passionately, or whispered affectionate words to you in bed, you knew—but I didn't—that another man also got to do that with you. When we made love, you could be thinking about how someone else did that. You could compare my cock to his, my tongue to his, my energy or gentleness or stamina to his—AND I WOULD NEVER KNOW IT."

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