"You're my wife!" Robert screamed.
"Robert, I'm your wife. I refuse to be your concubine," Nicole replied. A drop of sweat rolled down Robert's forehead. His eyes were wet from sobbing. He stood and walked to the front door.
"Where are you going, Robert?" said Nicole.
"Out." Robert walked outside and took two deep breaths. Robert, the blue-eyed, brown-skinned Casanova, had not made love to his wife in two years. The frustration sped up his walk to the supermarket where he purchased a six pack of Heineken. When he returned, Nicole was gone. No note. Just gone.
Robert stared at "Sportscenter" on the TV and sipped from the small green bottle. He rubbed his goatee slowly, reflecting on the argument. He was baffled by what happened to their marriage. They used to be happy. They would make love at the drop of a hat. They used to have chemistry. But over the last few years, things had changed. They had not had a conversation longer than five minutes in the last year. She spent more and more time with "the girls." Nicole claimed that she wasn't the cheating type. Based on her behavior, Robert thought otherwise.
Robert woke up to the slam of the front door. Nicole took one of the three empty Heineken bottles and tossed it into his lap.
"Robert, please clean up your mess."
"Sorry. I didn't think you cared."
"I don't. It's just the principle."
"What is your problem? Are you sleeping with someone else?"
"I do not have the time or patience to deal with your insecurity, Robert."
"It's okay. You keep doing your thing. I'll just keep making love with myself." Nicole stormed out of the room and slammed the bedroom door. Robert undressed and restlessly slept on the couch.
He arrived at work an hour early. The office building was tall, and the windows shone in the morning sunlight. It reminded Robert how far he had come in life. From a rough neighborhood in New York, he had worked his way through college to become an editor at a major publishing house. A glance at Nicole's picture caused a heavy feeling to press against his chest. A gentle knock on his door broke his sorrowful gaze.
"Good morning, Robert."
"Good morning, Clara. How are you?"
"Good. You look good, Robert."
Robert laughed off Clara's compliment. Clara and Robert had worked together for the last ten years and knew each other very well.
Clara was attractive. Her navy blue business suit emphasized her voluptuous breasts, narrow waist and ample hips. Her legs were shapely and muscular from years of running.
"Are you okay, Robert?"
"Just dandy. Happy as an ice cube in hell."
"Issues with the wife again?"
"Wow!! You must be psychic."
"All I have is one question. Are you happy?"
"Are you happy?"
Robert had never asked himself that question. He never admitted out loud that he was not happy with Nicole and had not been happy with their relationship for the last two years.
"Honestly, no. But that's between me and my wife."
"Life is too short to be unhappy." Clara sashayed to Robert's desk, kissed him gently on the cheek and whispered, "Just remember, I'm here for you." Clara backed away from him and gave him a big smile. She turned around and walked away so he could get a full view of her from head to toe.
Later that day, Robert sat his desk, rubbing his goatee and reading over a manuscript. His focus continued to drift from work to his situation at home. Robert wanted resolution. He remembered when they used to hang out all day and make love all night. A text message interrupted his pleasant memory.
Nicole wrote that she would be late. She was hanging out with the girls. Robert did not believe her. He rapidly wrote back and ended his message with "I love you." He always made it a point to say that to Nicole as much as possible. He never heard it much when he was growing up.
"Hey there." Robert looked up and saw Clara standing at his door with a big smile.
"Hey. How are you?"
"OK I guess. A little down because I have to work late tonight. By the looks of your desk, so do you."
"You are accurate in your assumption."
"Be careful. A sexy vixen may try to seduce you."
"Not for long."
"What's that supposed to mean?" The comment caught Robert off guard and strengthened his suspicion of Nicole's fidelity.
"Relax, honey. I'm just playing. I hope everything works out for you."
"All couples go through their rough spots. We'll be fine."
"I hope so. You're awfully touchy these days. I'm going to grab something to eat. Want anything?"
"No, I'm good."
She really does know me well, Robert thought. Nicole never picked up on Robert's tendencies the way Clara did. Robert felt guilty about his thoughts and physical desires towards Clara. He called Nicole to check on her, as well as to alleviate his guilt. She picked up on the first ring.
"What do you want, Robert?"
"I wanted to hear your voice."
"That's sweet, Robert. Can I go now?"
"Nicole, I am trying to show you I care."
"That's nice, Robert. Can you do it when I am not busy?"
Click. Her actions were a dagger to his heart. He placed his head in his hands and balled. Tears dripped from the spaces between his fingers. Robert did not understand why Nicole was so cold towards him. Sometime later, a soft hand rubbed his hair. Clara was standing next to him with tears in her eyes, too. She hugged him firmly. For the first time in years, his body reacted to another woman's touch. Her feminine softness and sweet scent were both comforting and stimulating. Clara felt Robert's reaction, but knew this was not the right time.
"What happened, Robert?" Robert told her about his exchange with Nicole. Clara listened attentively.
"So what are you going to do?"
"I don't know Clara. I just don't know."
After careful consideration, she decided it was time to break the news.
"You need to do something. This situation is starting to affect your performance at work. You're becoming less productive, withdrawn and irritable."
"Have people started to notice?" Clara looked at the floor. Her silence was Robert's answer. She walked to her desk, grabbed an envelope and handed it to Robert. His confused expression met Clara's guilty eyes.
"It's your severance package. Mr. Biggs thought it would be better if it came from me."
"I'm getting fired?"
"I'm so sorry, Robert."
"He wants you out by the end of the week."
"Let him be a man and tell me himself."
Clara walked out of his office. Furious, Robert sat at his desk rubbing his goatee. He received a text from Nicole that said she was on her way. He didn't bother to respond. He was through with drama for the day. The last thing he needed was for Nicole to assume Clara and him were having an affair. He stood up to stretch his legs. He looked at Clara, his co-worker for ten years, and wanted to curse her for doing her supervisor's dirty work. The sound of the elevator opening broke Robert's hateful gaze.
Nicole slowly walked down the hallway with her head down and avoiding Robert's eyes.
"Robert. We need to talk," Nicole said in a tired voice.
"About what? You said what you had to say over the phone didn't you?"
"Clara, I would like you to come into Robert's office too." Clara stood up and had a very mischievous look in her eye. She came into the office and stood directly next to Nicole. What was that all about?
"Robert. I have something to tell you."
"Let me guess. You have been seeing another man and you want a divorce. How could you Nicole? After all these years, I never cheated on you once," Robert stated.
"Let me explain, Robert."
"Explain what? How you thought it was OK to step out on your husband?"
"I am sorry, Robert. But you need to know the truth." Nicole grabbed Clara's hand and squeezed it.
"Clara? You knew about this too? What kind of friend are you?" Robert stopped and thought. Was all this stress really worth it? He had lost his job and his wife was dating someone else. What did he have to lose?
"Nicole, the last two years have been hell. We have grown apart, I have lost my job because of you, and I am miserable in this marriage. I want a divorce. And to you Clara, go to hell."
"Are you sure about this Robert?" Nicole said. She held Clara's hand even tighter.
"That's fine, Robert. Have it your way. But you need to know the truth."
"What? Do you have more than one boyfriend?"
"No. You know the woman I am dating very well." Clara wrapped her arms around Nicole's neck and softly kissed her lips. The soft peck turned in to a French kiss.
Thirty seconds later, Robert was leaning on his desk in an attempt not to pass out from shock. After finally breaking their passionate kiss, the women turned to Robert.
"Surprised?" asked Clara.
"Why?" Robert asked.
"You denied me so many times, Robert. I ran into Nicole at a party two years ago and we hit it off. She is beautiful and an amazing lover."
"Robert, I guess she figured if she couldn't have you she might as well have your better half," Nicole said. The women laughed at the crude joke that was anything but funny to Robert. They left as he sat at his desk and wondered where he would go from here.
Although Robert thought his life was falling apart, he was confident that he would find love again. As he packed up his desk, he picked up the picture of Nicole and slammed it into the trash can.