tagLoving WivesMaking an Honest Woman Ch. 03

Making an Honest Woman Ch. 03

bywendylicker©

For all of you who advised me to finish the entire story before posting, I see the wisdom in that, and will take your advice next time. If you're still reading, thank you for your patience.

If you've forgotten what was happening, Dan Tucker was on the point of reconciling with his wife after a couple of uncomfortable weeks living in a hotel room. Fresh from a night of reclaiming his wife, and a happy breakfast with his family, he goes to work, where the woman who had handled his request for a faculty apartment (which he'd applied for intending to move out of the house he shared with his wife) made a surprising comment.

This is the final chapter, as far as I'm concerned. Thanks for reading.


*****

I was in the Anthropology Department office, looking with curious surprise at Bonnie, the administrative assistant, who had just said something to startle me out of the relative calm of my morning.

"What do you mean, 'her little game'?" I asked.

She had been looking directly at me, but looked down at that. "Maybe I was speaking out of turn. My mistake."

"No," I told her, "you think you know something, and I think I need to know what it is. Just tell me the truth, and I won't be angry."

She sighed. "All right, but you remember you said that. So, about a year ago, my sister had a little boy. Her in-laws had come to town for the delivery, and checked in to the Hampton Inn. My sister's husband asked me to go over and get them and show them the way to the hospital, so they could see her and the baby. I got over there, it was some time mid-afternoon, and she and some guy I don't know got on the elevator to go up with me to their floor. I know her because she's been here a few times to see you, and, of course, I've seen her picture on the desk in your office. I guess she didn't recognize me; after all, I'm just the secretary. It was definitely her. Anyway, her and this guy didn't say much, but they were standing pretty close together, and they got off on the same floor as me, but went the other way down the hall. I watched them go into a room together; they weren't interested in anything else but each other. I'm sorry."

"Shit," I said. What else was there to say? A year ago this was happening? "Was he tall? Dark hair?"

"Not as tall as you, and his hair was lighter, sort of reddish. He wore glasses."

So, not Rob Stevens. Think, dammit. "Was she carrying anything? Was he? A briefcase, maybe, or a portfolio?"

She shut her eyes, I suppose to see the scene again in her mind. "A handbag, maybe? Nothing larger, I'm pretty sure. It was a year ago, after all."

"Yes," I said. "Could it have been a business meeting?"

She looked down again. "They were touching. Not . . . grabbing, or kissing, but, you know."

Shit again-yes, I do know. "Thank you for telling me, Bonnie. I'm not angry with you. But, as I guess you can tell, I didn't know."

"I'm sorry for not telling you," she said. "I didn't know what to say- 'Hey, Dr. Tucker, I saw your wife go into a hotel room with another guy' -so I just kept it to myself."

"It's okay," I reassured her. "I understand. I would appreciate it if you didn't say anything to anyone else-about what you saw, or about the apartment."

"No! I would never," she said. She gave me a look of such pity and concern that I thought, for the second time in three days, that I was going to throw up.

There didn't see to be anything more to say, so I just walked away. A few minutes later, I realized I was in my office, with no recollection of how I got there.

As I sat down, I realized that, in a way, this had made everything much simpler. There was no way I could continue to live with Ellen. We were getting a divorce. I was going to be single again, and my children would have to learn how to live their lives going back and forth between parents. Christmas Eve with Dad; Christmas Day with Mom. What a fucking awful, ugly shame.

And as my mind began to work again, it reached for the possibility of escape. What if Bonnie had been mistaken? What if it wasn't Ellen she'd seen? Or what if there was some innocent explanation that hadn't occurred to her, and she had jumped to an unwarranted conclusion? But that didn't last for long. Occam's Razor: if more than one conclusion can be reached, the one requiring the fewest assumptions is likelier to be true. To reject Bonnie's conclusion, I had to assume either that she had mistaken another woman for my wife (in a situation where she had no reason to expect to see my wife), or that she had misread the scene that had played out in front of her (when the circumstance and the behavior she had described pointed overwhelmingly to the conclusion she had drawn). Add to that the fact that it was not "unthinkable," as it would have been a year ago, if Bonnie had told me then. Now it was only too thinkable, and utterly believable.

I had to talk to someone; I called Dr. Andersen, and left a message, asking whether she could see me today, Friday afternoon. If not, maybe Monday. Monday! How was I going to get through the weekend? How was I going to face Ellen? Too many questions, not enough answers.

Since I couldn't work, I decided to go for a walk. It was a clear, chilly day in early March: not great for standing around outside, but I was sufficiently comfortable in my down jacket. I made a couple of circuits of the campus, in about an hour, as I considered what to do.

Dr. Andersen called as I was about to go around again. She could see me for a few minutes at the end of her day today; 5:30pm, and I'd better not be late. She also had a slot on Monday that I could have. I called and left a message that I'd see her at 5:30, sharp.

That was good, in a way, since it meant that I'd have a reason to clear out of the house after seeing the girls, before Ellen got home. With that much settled, I was able to get some light work done: paper grading and lecture planning, mostly. I skipped lunch, and went to check out the apartment, and drop off the signed paperwork, with a deposit.

It was serviceable: sparsely furnished-lots of bookshelves, a table and a couple of chairs, a chest of drawers, and a bed frame (but no mattress or box springs); clean, but well worn; not a place to have a life in, but somewhere to pause and gather strength before launching oneself headlong into the housing market. Maybe Sophie and Alyssa would enjoy helping me decorate.

When I saw the girls after school, they were still optimistic about my coming home, after seeing me that morning, and I couldn't bear to spoil their happiness, so I dissembled my heartbreak with "let's wait and sees," and "I'm still not ready to discuss it, yets." They didn't seem to notice, or mind when I told them that I had a meeting and had to miss dinner with them. I didn't say I wouldn't be back that evening, but I didn't say I would, either.

I told Dr. Andersen that I had evidence of another affair, and that I was determined to divorce Ellen. What I wanted to figure out was how to talk to her about it.

"You will tell her you have decided to divorce, she will ask what has changed your mind, and you will tell her what you learned," she said.

"I don't want to fight with her," I said. "I don't want to listen while she deflects, and explains, and justifies."

She gave me a look I couldn't read. "Maybe this time she won't."

"Are you kidding?" I said. "Since I confronted her the last time, she's been single-minded in trying to get me not to divorce her. Why would she suddenly give up?"

"You were clear with her, I think you said last time, regarding what would happen if she lied to you again?"

"Crystal clear," I said. "And then she lied to me so smoothly you'd never believe it."

"Oh, I would," said Dr. Andersen, with a little smile. I guess in her line of work she got lied to pretty often. "If you are right about the lie, then it would seem that she wagered all on this deception. Perhaps you should see it as a compliment that she cared to put so much effort into deceiving you."

"It doesn't feel like a compliment," I said, sourly.

She gave a half-wave of her hand, to indicate what little importance she gave to that. "So. If she wagered all and has lost, she may simply accept."

That Ellen might react that way was so different from what she'd done so far that I just couldn't see it, and I said so.

"So, she may make a scene. What are you afraid of?"

"Afraid?" I asked.

She continued, "If you are afraid of her reaction, you could just write her a letter, and leave it for her, could you not?"

She looked at her watch. "I have to go now. Think about what it is that frightens you about telling your wife you want to divorce her. If you want to come again on Monday, call and leave me a message." She stood; I had been dismissed.

Speaking of messages, I had one from Ellen. "I've been looking forward all day to seeing you," she had said. "Hurry home. I think we need to continue our 'conversation.'" I could hear the scare quotes in her voice as she spoke that last word.

I was about to text her a reply, when Dr. Andersen's taunt came back to mind. Fuck her and her odd little Nordic lilt. I don't have to hide from my wife. I'll call her.

In response to her chipper, "Hi, honey!" I said, "I won't be coming over tonight."

"Why not?" she asked, in a lower octave.

"I still have some things to think over," I replied, still dissembling. Infidelity makes liars of us all, I guess. "I told you, having sex wouldn't fix our problems."

"Well, I don't see how it was making them worse, either," she said, getting angry. "You said it: I'm yours, and you're mine. If that's true, then you're not going to 'fix' anything by hiding in your hotel room." More emphatic scare quotes. She lowered her voice; I guess the girls were nearby. "If you don't want to have sex with me, then I don't see how you can get angry about someone else wanting to."

I wish I'd recorded this to play for Dr. fucking Andersen. "Maybe the reason I don't want to have sex with you is that you were already having sex with someone else. Hey, I never asked you: did you use condoms? No, don't answer; just think about what it means for me to wonder about that. Good night, Ellen," I said, and pressed "End."

It was Friday night, and I had nowhere to be. I called Dave.

He picked up. "Hey, buddy! What's going on?"

"Do you want to join me for a drink somewhere?" I asked. "Nowhere near campus, though." Who wants to run into your students when you're drinking?

"Sure," he said. "Maxwell's?" He'd named a relatively sedate bar well away from the university.

"Great," I replied. "An hour?"

"You buy the first round." Seemed fair to me.

"So, what happened to family evenings?" Dave asked, raising a glass of bourbon to his lips.

I figured I'd launch right into it. "I caught Ellen in another lie. She's had at least one affair before the one I found out about two weeks ago."

"Shit." Dave looked genuinely sad on my behalf. "Sorry, man."

"In a way, it makes things easier, more clear-cut. One affair, do I give her another chance, or cut her loose? Two-and who knows how many others-and why would I want to stay with her?"

"What does she say?" he asked.

"Haven't told her yet that I know," I said. "I really don't want to go through the whole rigamarole again, the lies, then the apologies, then the justifications, then more lies, coupled with protestations of love: 'oh, really, Dan, I only ever loved you!'"

"Maybe she means it," he observed.

"Maybe she's full of shit," I retorted. "You don't love someone and do that to them."

"I never stopped loving Denise," he said. "I know that what I did what shitty, and it hurt her, and it killed our marriage. But I swear, I didn't do it because I didn't love her. I can't explain it, and I doubt Ellen could, either. But I would bet what's left of my 401k that she does love you, in spite of what she's done."

"Fuck her," I said. "I don't want to be loved by someone who can't be faithful. Maybe you should give her a call; the two of you would seem to have a lot in common."

"Don't shoot the messenger," he said. "I'm not defending her. I'm just trying to help you understand. If you'd rather not talk about it-"

"You're right, I'm sorry," I said. "It does help to hear from that side. I know she's not evil, and that she must have some rationale for what she's doing that makes sense to her, but I'm damned if I can figure it out."

"So, what's the plan, then?" he asked. "Are you just going to have her served with the divorce papers, out of the blue?"

"As much as I'd like to, no," I said. "I know I have to have it out with her. I'm just not ready, yet. What's the hurry, anyway? She's known she's been cheating on me for a year; she's always known how I would feel about it. Now that I've finally discovered it, do I owe her a speedy resolution? Don't I deserve to let things unfold according to my schedule?"

"Of course," he said. "And I agree that you should probably be sure you're ready to have that discussion before you wade into it. Do you think it would help to wait until your next session with the counselor? Are you still going?"

"I stopped seeing her individually, but I didn't cancel our next joint meeting. It's Wednesday afternoon. You know," I said, "I think maybe you're right. This might be a good discussion to have with a referee." I thought for a minute. "The only problem is, what do I do until Wednesday? Ellen's going to know something's up, since I can't keep lying and pretending that things aren't as bad as they are. And lying to the kids is worse."

"Maybe you can move it to Monday. Tell her it's an emergency."

"Dave, you're a genius. If I can do that, then all I have to do is get through the weekend."

"Have a drink," he said. So I did.

The next morning I called Ellen to tell her that I'd meet them at Sophie's soccer game, and I'd take us all out to lunch after. She didn't press me, and it was a short conversation.

As we were standing together, cheering on our daughter, Ellen said, "I understand you need some space; Thursday night was a big step forward, and you don't want to rush into a mistake. I get it. But you have to understand it's hard for me, too. I love you, Dan, and I want to heal our marriage, and we can't do that if we're apart. I know I've got no right to be a bitch to you, and I'm trying not to be, but you really caught me off guard yesterday, when I was so happy and excited that we seemed to be on the road to being okay again."

"I realize that," I replied. "I'm sorry for dumping it on you like that. It's just-this whole thing has been a real emotional rollercoaster for both of us, I guess. Believe me, I wish the ride was over, too, but I don't think it is, yet." I paused, then said, "Do you think it would be a good idea to ask Dr. Drake if we could move our next session up to Monday? The middle of the week seems like a long time to wait."

"Sure," she said. "Do you want me to ask her? I can leave a message; I doubt that she'll get back to us before Monday morning, but we can try."

"That would be great," I said.

We had a good lunch together, and I went home with them, where we spent a nice afternoon in the yard, under Ellen's direction, cleaning things up to prepare for spring. I looked over the house to see what might need to be scraped and painted when the weather got a bit warmer. I realized, sadly, that by then that would probably not be my job anymore.

Ellen made a pot of chili for dinner, and afterward we decided to watch a movie; since it was Sophie's turn to pick, we watched Frozen for the 1,143rd time. I didn't care; I just wanted to enjoy being with my family. After the movie, I kissed the girls, and said good night to Ellen.

"I wish you'd stay," she said.

"I don't think I should," I said. "I have some things to do tomorrow, so I don't think I"ll be by. But let me know when you hear from Dr. Drake. I can meet anytime on Monday."

"All right," she said. "I love you."

What could I say? After all, it was still true. "I love you, too."

Sunday I spent running up charges on my credit card, buying stuff I'd need for the apartment. Since it was empty already, I'd been told I could move in anytime, and they'd pro-rate the rent for the remainder of the month. I scheduled the mattress delivery for Tuesday afternoon. After that, I could move out of the motel.

Ellen called late Sunday to tell me that Dr. Drake, who apparently checks her messages on weekends, had replied that she had an open slot at 2pm on Monday. She offered to pick me up from school, but I told her I'd drive; if things went the way I expected-feared, according to Dr. Andersen-then I doubted that we'd want to be in the same care afterward.

The only thing I remember doing Monday before the appointment with the therapist was calling Arlene Dahl, the attorney, to ask for another meeting to start the divorce. She called me back to confirm a slot on Tuesday, and told me to bring copies of my tax returns.

"Your wife files separately?" she seemed surprised.

"Yes," I told her, "for a few years now. Her accountant told her that, because of the business, it made more sense."

"Okay," she said. "I'll need her returns too, then, for three years, if you have access to them."

I promised to bring them. That reminded me that I was going to have to go to the house after our meeting, to get my stuff from the office, as well as my clothes and things I'd need at the apartment. That was going to be bad-really bad.

Finally I found myself parked next to Dr. Drake's house just before 2pm. Ellen's car was already there; I guess she was inside. I went in.

They were seated: Ellen again at one end of the sofa, Dr. Drake opposite her, in a chair. I sat at the other end of the sofa that Ellen was occupying.

Dr. Drake began, "I think we should talk about what happened at our last meeting, and what you've been doing since. I assume that that's the reason for asking to move things up."

"Actually," I said, "there's something else that I'd like to discuss first, if that's all right. Something that happened to me on Friday."

She nodded; Ellen seemed surprised, but didn't say anything.

"On Friday," I said, "I was in the departmental office, and one of the administrative staff, who'd seen my application for faculty housing, and guessed at the reason I was moving out, told me of something she'd seen a while back; about a year ago, she said." I waited for a moment, but nobody said anything. "I want to preface this by saying that, on Thursday night, Ellen and I had a long talk, and slept together. I felt that we had reconnected. As we were talking, I asked her if there were any more secrets, and she told me there weren't."

Ellen gasped. "Dan, wait-"

"The woman in the office told me that she'd seen Ellen going into a hotel room with another man. The man she described was not the man she-I mean Ellen-has recently been having an affair with; as far as I know, that man didn't even live here then. That means that she had an earlier affair, with a different man, that I knew nothing about, and that means that her infidelity was not only not a one-time event, it wasn't limited to a single partner. It's a pattern of behavior, a pattern of lies, going back who knows how far, and I don't . . . I don't think I can stay married to her." I felt myself starting to cry.

"Dan, I don't know what she thinks she saw, but it wasn't me!" Ellen cried. "I swear! You have to believe me!"

"She knows what you look like, she's seen you in person, and she's seen the photos of you I keep in my office. She saw you one afternoon at the Hampton Inn. It was you. With another man. Maybe you should have gone with, 'yes, it was me, but it wasn't what she thought she saw.' Only, she said you were touching him, and that the two of you had eyes only for each other. She stood there and watched the two of you go into the room, and you never even noticed her standing there."

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