tagLoving WivesSuspicious Minds

Suspicious Minds



As my key turned in the lock on our side door, I worried that it would make an inordinately loud sound. But it was hard to tell -- my heart was pounding so hard I was having trouble hearing anything. As I stepped over the threshold, I turned and closed the door gently behind me, then began to walk carefully through the kitchen, the dining room and finally into the front hall. The stairs loomed above me. If I could help it, I didn't want to give them any advance notice that I had come home.

I'd taken to driving by our house at odd times just to see if there was any unusual activity going on. Today, my surveillance was finally rewarded -- if that's the right word -- when I saw Bill Matthews's car parked in my driveway. There was no reason for him to be there. I was supposed to be playing golf, but I'd taken a pass on my weekly game to check up on things at home. Now I was glad I had.

I'm Marshall Harrison, and I'm married to Marsha Harrison. (We get teased about our names all the time.) It's the second marriage for both of us. I caught my first wife doing something she wasn't supposed to be doing with another guy, and I dumped her like a hot potato. And just like what usually happens when you handle a hot potato, I'd been badly burned. It took me almost a year before I even started dating again, and three years after that before I regained enough self-confidence to consider a serious relationship.

Marsha's story was different. She'd married her college sweetheart only to discover that he had a drinking problem. When you're going to fraternity keggers and post-game parties in college, getting smashed seems exciting and daring, especially if you grew up in a somewhat restrictive home environment. But when the drinking doesn't slow down after graduation, and when it causes your husband to be late for work all the time and ultimately to get fired, it loses all its attractiveness. Finally, when Marsha understood that she couldn't save her husband without his cooperation -- which he wasn't ready to give -- she realized that the only person she could save was herself.

When a mutual friend introduced us, we were two wounded veterans of the matrimonial wars. Maybe it was the sense of shared suffering or maybe it's just that we'd both had had enough time to recover sufficiently from the trauma of a bad first marriage. Whatever the case, we hit it off immediately. It wasn't long before I could picture myself spending the rest of my life with Marsha. After I got up the courage to tell her that, she told me she felt the same way. When we finally made the commitment to each other, we were both certain that we'd made much better choices, and were determined that we were in it for the long term.

But over the years, commitments seem to lose some of their potency and relationships can lose some of their intimacy. Part of that, of course, is the almost inevitable decline in passion. There's an old joke that goes that marriage is a transition from living room sex to bedroom sex to hallway sex. When you're first married, you make love with your wife in the living room and every other room in the house. As the years go by, sex gets relegated to the bedroom only. Finally, it turns into hallway sex: you pass each other in the hallway and say "Fuck you."

I know: it's not a very funny joke. And it isn't really descriptive of our relationship; we loved each other and we certainly weren't cursing at one another. But the hot, frantic passion of the first years of our marriage had degenerated into the comfortable, predictable routine of evening/weekend sex in the comfort of our queen-sized bed.

Similarly, our lives had become compartmentalized and routine. We both worked during the day, then came home to a precooked meal or take out; neither of us was much of a cook. After dinner we had our favorite tv shows to watch, then off to bed, where once or twice a week we'd have pleasurable if predictable sex. Weekends were a little more exciting: we regularly socialized with friends, went out to dinner or caught a new release at the local cinema. Without the pressure of an early morning commute the next day, sex would get a little more adventurous on the weekend: light restraint, role playing, oil massages, experiments with whipped cream and other food. It was mostly fun, sometimes messy, the kind of things that couples do to try to keep the home fires burning.

So if you'd asked either one of us about the state of our marriage, I think we would honestly have replied that it was good and solid. But, of course, that's not the whole story.

The old saying goes, "Once bitten, twice shy." I don't think I ever completely got over my first wife's cheating on me. No, I didn't hate her or hold a grudge toward her. It was more insidious than that: I could never stop looking and listening for clues that the same thing might be happening again. I found myself checking Marsha's phone records for unknown numbers or unusual calling patterns. I'd snoop in her closet and dresser every now and then just to see if there was anything out of the ordinary. A few times I even prowled through the dirty laundry hamper to make sure her panties didn't have any stains that didn't belong there.

I was embarrassed by my behavior, and I hoped that Marsha wasn't aware of it, but I couldn't stop myself. The terrible thing about paranoia is that lack of evidence provides no reassurance.

Recently, I had begun to note small things that aroused my concern. Some decline in our sex lives was to be expected, but that didn't mean I hadn't noticed the change. Whenever she begged off, a counter tripped in my head. Nothing unreasonable, no recognizable pattern, but I was still aware it was happening.

Other things began to occur that made me wonder. She began to have to work late every now and then; she hadn't done that in the past. She told me it was because there had been layoffs in her office and she had had to pick up the extra workload. "Reasonable," I thought, "but also convenient."

Then she came home one day to tell me she would have to travel for work. It was just an overnight trip, and she was back the next day, but she had never done that before. "Why now?" I asked myself.

Then, two weeks ago, I called her at the office about something just before noon and they told me she was out to lunch. Marsha always has lunch at her desk; I couldn't remember a single time when she'd actually taken a full lunch hour. When I asked that night, she told me that she'd attended a going-away luncheon for a co-worker who had found another job. It certainly sounded plausible, and yet . . .

Last weekend really set the alarm bells ringing. First, she went out shopping while I was playing golf with my regular Saturday foursome. She'd gotten home only minutes before me, and when I spotted the shopping bags she'd set on the bed, I couldn't help but take a peek. Inside the big bag from the department store was a smaller bag from Victoria's Secret. Why did she feel the need to hide the bag? Inside were a couple of bra-and-panty sets sexy enough to wake the dead. "I wonder if I'll be the one to see those on her?" was the thought that came unbidden to mind.

That night we were due to go out to dinner with Lydia and Bill Matthews, two of our closest friends. We planned to try a new place that had gotten favorable reviews. When we arrived, we found the place was divided into two sections: the restaurant area and a lounge with a jazz trio playing dance music.

After dinner, which included a couple of bottles of a nice wine, Marsha declared that it was too early to go home and she wanted to check out the lounge. I was a little surprised, since Marsha is usually ready to call it a night after a leisurely dinner. Truthfully, I was hoping to get her home to see if she was wearing any of her new purchases. But Lydia and Bill were also interested, so we settled the check and proceeded to plop ourselves onto a cozy banquette on one wall of the lounge area. A cocktail waitress appeared immediately, so we all ordered a drink and sat back to enjoy the music. The trio playing was quite good, and before we realized it, a second round of drinks was in front of us.

I was chatting with Lydia when Bill stood up and said he wanted to dance. Lydia waved him off to continue her story, so Bill turned to Marsha, bowed low, and asked if she would accompany him to the dance floor. She giggled at his exaggerated gesture of gallantry, arose and stepped onto the dance floor with him.

As Lydia and I continued to chat, I couldn't help keeping an eye on the two of them. The first dance was a bit up tempo, and Bill surprised me with how well he moved. I would have figured him to have two left feet, but he and Marsha appeared to be totally in synch.

Then the band switched to a slow number, and Bill and Marsha stayed on the floor. Bill certainly didn't do anything inappropriate, but I was struck by how closely and how smoothly they danced together. It was almost, I suddenly realized, as though they had done this before.

Lydia was watching them too, but if she was concerned, she didn't show it. I, on the other hand, felt my pulse rise as they glided together.

The band played a second slow number, and more people got up to dance, blocking Bill and Marsha from my view. Lydia probably thought the drinks had gone to my head, because I was mumbling and speaking in monosyllables as she tried to make conversation. "What's going on out on the dance floor?" I kept wondering.

Finally, the number ended, and Bill escorted Marsha back to the table. Then he made another deep bow to thank her for the dance. I wondered if that was for her benefit or for mine.

Shortly after that, we all piled into our separate cars and headed home. Marsha had a dreamy look on her face and kept humming the last number the band had played. I had a scowl on my face and dark thoughts in my head.

When we got home, Marsha was obviously still a little high from the extra drinks. She pulled her dress off and tossed it carelessly on a chair before stripping off her underwear. Yes, she'd worn one of her new purchases, but I wasn't going to get to enjoy it. She quickly pulled on her every-day nightgown and unceremoniously collapsed on the bed. It was clear there was going to be no sex tonight.

She was asleep almost immediately. I, on the other hand, lay there for quite awhile, thinking about all that had happened. Her dancing with Bill wasn't unprecedented, but I'd never seen them dance three straight numbers together, and I'd certainly never seen such a level of intimacy between them. Moreover, I recalled, it had been Marsha who had wanted to adjourn to the lounge in the first place. Had there been some kind of plan in place, something they'd cooked up between them ahead of time? Or was this simply the next step in a growing relationship, headed for something worse?

None of this, I kept telling myself, really meant anything, but, when seen in aggregate, it all added up to trouble. Now my only question was what to do about it? Confrontation was out of the question -- what could I confront her with? Doing nothing was an equally bad option. All my instincts were screaming that something was going on, and there was no way I could ignore them without developing an ulcer. Finally, I opted for the middle ground: I would keep an even closer eye on Marsha, hopefully without being too obvious. If I found any hard evidence, I'd confront her and we'd have it out.

I thought that making that decision would relieve my anxiety; instead, it made things worse. I felt like a double agent, secretly searching for evidence while trying to act like a normal, loving husband. Every time I checked and found nothing, I felt only frustration that my efforts had been thwarted. Every time she exhibited suspicious behavior, I was equally frustrated when it didn't prove adulterous intent.

The breakthrough I was looking for came on Saturday. I went off for my weekly golf game as usual, but this time, unbeknownst to Marsha, I'd told my buddies I couldn't play. Instead, I grabbed a sandwich and a couple of beers at a pub to kill some time, then planned to head home to check up on her. If there was ever a time when she might be up to something, I figured this had to be it.

My plan was simple: first, I'd drive by my house to see if anything unusual was going on there. If she wasn't home, I'd drive by Bill and Lydia's house to see if I could find her car over there. If that didn't work, I'd probably just spend the rest of the afternoon kicking myself for missing out on a round of golf while driving myself crazy for nothing.

After I'd finished my burger and beer, I hopped into my car and headed home on what I had to admit was likely to be a wild goose chase. I was already berating myself for letting my anxiety get the better of me by the time I pulled into our subdivision. But when I rounded the curve in our street that leads to our house, a shot of adrenaline pulsed through me as I spotted a strange car in our driveway. As I got closer, I realized it wasn't a strange car -- it was Bill Matthews' SUV. Sonuvabitch!

"Calm down," I told myself, "it's possible there's an entirely innocent explanation. Don't go off half-cocked." But I could feel my blood pressure rising as I parked alongside Bill's monster and got out of my car.

First, I went around to the back of the house and peered in the windows of the den. There was no one there. I checked a couple of other windows, but it soon became clear that no one was on the main floor of the house. "Oh, shit," I thought, "they're in the bedroom!"

Entering the house through the side door as quietly as I could, I made my way to the staircase in the entry hall. From where I stood, I thought I could hear sounds coming from upstairs, so I carefully climbed the steps to try to avoid the squeaky boards.

At the top of the stairs, I saw that the doors to the master bedroom were closed, but there were voices and sounds coming from within. I tiptoed to the door and listened, trying unsuccessfully to make out what was going on. I quietly tried the door knob, but it was either stuck or locked. Suddenly, I heard Marsha give a little squeal, and any doubts I'd had were swept away.

Lowering my shoulder, I rammed into the door as hard as I could. The latch gave way immediately and the door flew open, pivoting on its hinges and slamming into the bedroom wall with a tremendous bang. My momentum carried me into the room, and, unable to keep my balance, I fell to floor. As I scrambled to regain my footing, I heard a high-pitched scream of fear and surprise. "What in the hell is going on . . ." I yelled at the top of my lungs, only to stop short and gawk at the sight in front of me.

Standing beside the walk-in closet were Marsha and Lydia Matthews, both fully dressed. In Lydia's hand was a dress on a hangar with a price tag dangling from the sleeve. Both women were staring at me with a look of fear that quickly changed to amazement and then anger.

"Marshall, what in the world are you doing? You scared us half to death!" Marsha yelled at me.

"I saw Bill's car parked in the driveway and thought I'd catch you two . . ." Then I realized what I was saying and shut up. "This is bad," I thought to myself, "really bad."

Lydia spoke up first. "My car is in the shop. I borrowed Bill's to show Marsha what I bought today."

But Marsha had realized the implications of what I'd just said. "You thought I was cheating with Bill, didn't you?" she yelled at me.

I just hung my head -- there was nothing I could say.

"You thought I was in bed with Bill and you came busting in here trying to catch me!" Marsha repeated, growing angrier by the second.

When she paused, Lydia saw her opportunity. "Marsha, I'm going to get out of here and let you two work this out. Call me later." With that, she hugged Marsha and, giving me a pitying look, walked through the shattered door and down the stairs.

As I watched her go, I knew that I was in for big trouble and there was nothing I could do about it, since it was all my fault.


Marshall had been acting somewhat strangely for several weeks, but I'd had no luck trying to find out what was bothering him. The last thing I ever expected was for him to come bursting through our bedroom door like some storm trooper.

After Lydia left, the two of us had it out right there in our bedroom. Marshall finally admitted that he'd been spying on me for some time before he pulled his little Rambo act. The more I heard, the madder I got.

"After all these years of being married," I told Lydia when I phoned her that evening, "I can't believe that he has so little faith in me. It's like a huge slap in the face."

"Can you believe it: he even admitted that he's been sniffing my panties trying to smell if another man had been with me! That's so degrading -- I feel absolutely humiliated!"

Lydia tried to calm me down. "At least you know he still loves you," she offered.

"I don't feel loved," I shot back, "I feel more like I've been violated. His actions showed a total lack of respect for me as a wife and as a woman."

"Well," Lydia tried again, "if he didn't love you, he wouldn't have cared if you were cheating."

"I'm not so sure," I said. "From what I've read, a cheater is the first to suspect others of cheating. Maybe he's got some little tramp on the side."

"Oh, no," Lydia said quickly, "You know better than that. Marshall just isn't the type, especially after what happened with his first wife."

"Maybe you're right," I replied, "but right now I don't know what to believe. I thought we were a happily married couple, but he's shaken the foundation of everything I've believed up to now."

"Oh, Marsha, you're not thinking about divorce, are you?"

"No, but I can promise you he's going to be sleeping in the guest bedroom for some time to come."


And so my life became a living hell. I know that's a cliché, but there's no other way to put it. I had never seen Marsha so angry in my life, certainly not at me. After Lydia left, she lit into me like a bully goes after a 98-pound weakling. She forced me to tell her the whole, sordid thing, and every admission just stoked her rage.

When I tried to explain how I had fallen into this trap, she took it personally. Every fear I'd had, every suspicion I harbored was a personal insult to her. What could I say? Looking at it from her side, I could see how she'd feel that way.

My attempts to excuse my actions because of my terrible first marriage occasioned no sympathy on her part. "I'm not your ex!" she screamed at me. "How would you like it if I yelled at you every time you took a drink just because my ex was an alcoholic?" There was nothing I could say to that.

I begged her to forgive me. I swore that I would never doubt her again, but she wasn't having any of it. I was exiled to the guest bedroom for an indefinite period, and I knew that I'd be walking on eggshells around her for a long time.

The hell of the thing is that I was more angry with myself than Marsha was. It was my own damn fault for letting my paranoia run away with me. I knew better -- or should have -- but my emotions took over, and look where they got me. What an idiot!

And there's another thing: I have no one to talk to about this. Normally, I'd go to Bill, but I sure can't tell him I thought he was screwing my wife. Of course I'd guess he already knows all about it; I'm sure Lydia filled him in right away. He's probably pretty angry with me too for thinking so poorly of him, and, if the shoe were on the other foot, I guess I'd feel the same way.

I sure don't want to talk about this with anyone else. Like the saying goes, you can let them think you're an idiot, or you can open your mouth and prove it.

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byFrancisMacomber© 204 comments/ 134697 views/ 80 favorites

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