tagLoving WivesWife and Ex-Wife Ch. 01

Wife and Ex-Wife Ch. 01

bykathrynmburke©

A dating website for divorced people! Well, why not? There were sites for baseball fans, Christians, even farmers, for God's sake—so why not for those whose marriages had blown up in their faces? Every divorce is different, of course, and the fact that you've gone through one is not necessarily the main thing you want to have in common with another person; but, as Nina Wilkerson reflected, it could be worse.

Her own marriage had gone bust three years before; and it had taken almost that whole time even to consider a replacement for her ex, Larry, with whom she had almost entirely lost touch. He was still in Seattle, she believed; she had gotten the cute but small three-bedroom house in Wedgwood in the divorce settlement (although she had had to refinance in order to afford the mortgage on just her salary), and he had holed up in a little apartment downtown, near his office. The trauma of the breakup had been hard to deal with, and lots of her friends thought she was being way too emotional in dealing (or, in their unkind judgment, failing to deal) with the situation. "Get a new man right away!" they had said, in effect. "Don't let Larry rule your life!" Well, that was easier said than done.

I mean, how do you get over the devastating fact that a man who'd married you only four years before had run away with someone younger and—although he didn't come out and say so—better in bed?

After all, it wasn't as if she was an old lady: only thirty-two when Larry had cast her aside. And, by God! she was damn attractive to most men: an oval face with a somewhat melancholy expression (but some men liked that, didn't they?), framed by soft brown hair that was always impeccably styled; of good height (five feet six), slender but curvy, and with plenty of oomph at bust and bottom. What was there not to like?

So why didn't she go on a single date for nearly three years after Larry left her? That was exactly what her friends were asking, over and over again, to the point that she just wanted to scream at them: "Leave me alone, you guys! I'll get to it in my own sweet time!" Some of her more coarse friends had even suggested that she just spread her legs for any presentable guy who seemed interested—but there was no way she was going to do that. For Nina, the sanctity of the sexual act meant that it had to be reserved for someone truly special. Okay, you didn't absolutely need to love the guy, but you had to have some feelings for him. A handsome face, muscular shoulders, and (she blushed even to think about it) a big cock weren't nearly enough.

But at last, some kind of urge—whether it was sexual or romantic or just a desire for male companionship—finally led her to make very discreet inquiries about how to find someone decent and respectable, hopefully for some long-term commitment and not just a "hook-up" (horrible term!). She had tried a few dating sites, but they had proved fruitless: men who were either totally hopeless, or men who just wanted to get laid, or (worst of all) men who wanted a replacement mother for their children. Sorry, but she just wasn't the maternal type, and the one decision she congratulated herself on was not having spawned offspring with some entirely unsuitable guy—especially one like Larry, who then left her in the lurch.

The site for divorced people didn't seem all that promising either at first; and, in fact, it wasn't, at least if the first couple of dates she went on were any indication. Once again, she encountered variously impossible men in all shapes and sizes. Far too many of them used their first date with Nina to vent about their cruel and mercenary ex-spouses, so you could tell they hadn't come to terms with their bachelor state and were just longing to snatch up the first passable woman who showed up as a makeshift substitute. Others just wanted to play the field, thinking that the old-fashioned term "gay divorcée" still had some life left in it: the woman—to their way of thinking—who, having shed some boring husband (and gotten a fat settlement in the process), was now ready to doff her clothes at the earliest opportunity, maybe (as some of the men all but openly stated in their profiles) with multiple partners at once. Those people, of course, Nina refused to meet or even exchange messages with.

But then Nina stumbled upon Patrick McAvoy.

A year younger than her, he seemed both attractive (if the photos on his profile could be trusted—as, in many cases, they couldn't) and blissfully lacking in neuroses. And the fact that he was gainfully employed was helpful! Nina wasn't entirely sure they shared a lot of common interests—but at least he didn't seem too much inclined toward bungee jumping or "huntin' and fishin'" or watching NASCAR races either in person or on television. She sometimes chided herself for being just the least bit snobbish where working-class people—or, rather, working-class interests—were concerned; but really, there was just no point in getting together with someone who didn't like wine with dinner, didn't like to go to theatre, ballet, opera, and the symphony, was super-religious, or—and perhaps this was most important of all—was a Republican.

So she had agreed to meet with him.

Patrick lived in an apartment in the Maple Leaf neighborhood, not terribly far from her house in Wedgwood. Somewhat reluctantly, she had agreed to have him pick her up at her house and take her to a Starbucks nearby. Did she really want someone who was practically a stranger—they had exchanged some token emails and spoken on the phone a few times—to know where she lived? But she dismissed these concerns as a bit overwrought: for God's sake, he didn't look like an axe-murderer (but what do axe-murderers look like?), and he himself had given her the address of his own apartment building, so she knew as much about where he lived as he did about her.

They had agreed to meet around 4 o'clock on a Saturday, and on that unseasonably warm June day Nina found herself actually tingling with excitement. She wasn't so naïve as to think, This is the one! But he did seem a lot more promising than most others on the dating site. So she took care with her attire, knowing how important first impressions are. She wasn't going to wear anything too daring or revealing (I certainly don't want him to think I'm what used to be called "a woman of easy virtue"!), but she also didn't want to come across as a prude. So she chose a white blouse that opened at the neck to reveal just a hint of cleavage and a maroon knee-length pleated skirt that she frankly thought she looked scrumptious in. But she didn't wear heels, for a very specific reason.

As Patrick's powder-blue Prius pulled up in front of her house, Nina quickly checked herself in the hall mirror (just enough makeup around eyes and mouth, I think) and tripped out the door. He was gentlemanly enough to get out of the car and give her a sober handshake as they met on the sidewalk; and then he bestowed upon her the added courtesy of opening the passenger-side door for her.

They spoke little during the drive to Starbucks, as it seemed that both of them suddenly got an attack of nerves; anyway, the date somehow didn't seem to begin officially until they actually had their drinks (plain coffee for him, a frappuchino for her) in hand. Without fuss, Patrick purchased the drinks and brought them to the small table where Nina had parked herself. And as he sat down across from her, she was able to give him a covert once-over.

He looked as warm and genial and non-neurotic as he had looked on his photos. A shock of jet-black hair rested somewhat untidily over a face that had gentle curves around the jawline, with brown eyes that somehow seemed both calm and piercing. A slender nose and a Cupid's-bow mouth that any woman would have loved to have made Nina shiver inwardly (God, I have to stop thinking of what those lips would feel like against my own!), and his firm, almost stocky frame was masculine enough that it far overshadowed what Nina sensed was, from Patrick's own perspective, his one drawback: he was quite short.

His profile had optimistically noted that he was five foot eight, but Nina smiled to herself as she thought that that was an exaggeration by at least an inch, maybe a bit more. When she had greeted him on the sidewalk, the top of his head was barely higher than her own. Well, that was all to the good: she was tired of looking up to guys who were half a head taller than her, as if their mere height were a sign of superiority. True, Patrick outweighed her by a considerable margin—but that was only to be expected. His bare arms had quite a bit of dark down on them, and the open neck of his polo shirt betrayed more dark hairs peeking out from his chest. Nina was a sucker for chest hair, and once again she had to stop herself from imagining what it might be like to rub her face all over Patrick's fur.

They got some preliminaries out of the way quickly: Nina said she was a lower-level executive at a local bank, and Patrick informed her that he worked as a graphic artist for a tech company downtown. She had spent pretty much her whole life in Seattle, attending View Ridge Elementary School, Eckstein Middle School, Roosevelt High School, and the University of Washington; Patrick was a transplant from upstate New York, and he casually let out the fact that he had gone through Cornell.

"Ivy League!" Nina said. "I'm impressed."

Patrick shrugged indifferently. "It was a good school—I won't deny that. But I'm glad I'm not there anymore. I love it out here."

"So do I!" she gushed. "I mean, I love traveling all over, but it's always good to get back to Seattle."

They settled into a comfortable silence—but as it became prolonged, Nina seemed to get a bit agitated. That's probably why she blurted out something that she shouldn't have.

"So why did you get divorced?"

Patrick's expression changed abruptly from genial friendliness to a kind of blank, frozen look. Nina, mortified, covered her mouth with her hand, then said:

"Oh, God, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have said that."

Patrick was mollified, but he seemed to have lapsed into a kind of pensive sadness. "No, it's okay. You have a right to ask—I mean, it's the thing we have most in common."

"It's not the most important thing!" Nina almost shouted. Then, more quietly: "I hope it isn't, anyway. I think there's a lot more to us than just being participants in a failed marriage."

"I hope so, too," he said. Then he sighed heavily, his eyes looking away from her. "There's no way to speak of something like that in a few sentences, is there?"

"I can," she said bluntly. "My husband left me for someone else."

There was a dead silence, as Nina again internally chided herself. Oh, God, now I'm just begging for his sympathy! Could I have started off this date any worse?

But even she wasn't prepared for what Patrick did next. Blood seemed to suffuse his face, and his hands compressed themselves into fists. "That son of a bitch," he said with subdued intensity. "You're well rid of him, if he couldn't appreciate you."

Taken aback, she said, "Oh, well, it wasn't all his fault. Maybe I wasn't the best wife to him—"

"Don't you ever say that!" he said sharply, but again in a low voice so that the people in nearby tables couldn't hear. "You're not to blame for what that scumbag did."

A flush of warmth coursed through her, and she reached out to stroke his hand—or, rather, his fist. She used both of her own hands to unclench one of the fists, and the other unclenched of its own accord.

"Patrick, that's so sweet of you—but, just as it takes two to marry, it also takes two to divorce. I'm not blameless. Maybe Larry is more to blame, but I share some responsibility."

"Well," he said grudgingly, "his loss is—someone else's gain." It was clear to both of them that he was going to say something slightly different, and he colored slightly at that realization.

"So," she said tentatively, "at least you weren't unfaithful to your wife."

"No," he said. "Amelia and I had our problems, but that wasn't one of them. And she wasn't unfaithful to me, either."

"Then what was the issue?"

He sighed again. "It's so complicated. . . . I guess"—he seemed to be straining for the right word—"we just weren't well suited for each other. Temperamentally speaking, that is. I'm sorry to say it, but she's a somewhat needy person, and I think she felt I wasn't paying enough attention to her."

"That's it?" she said incredulously. "That's why you divorced?"

"Oh, there's a lot more to it than that—but basically that's it."

"How long were you married?"

"Five years."

"Hmm . . . one more than I was. And you divorced when?"

"Not quite two years ago."

"Three, and a little more, for me."

There was another silence. Then Patrick said: "Let's talk about something else, okay? Something a little, um, safer?"

She smiled at that. "Okay, it's a deal."

"How about family?"

Her smile suddenly disappeared, but Patrick didn't immediately notice. He was about to say something, but she interrupted him. "You have brothers and sisters?"

"Two—two sisters, both older than me. They're doing well in California."

"Married?"

"One of them is. The other is . . . divorced!" He chuckled at that.

"That's not funny," she said disapprovingly.

"I guess not—but I never liked the guy, so I'm glad he's out of the picture. What about you?"

"What about me?"

"Brothers and sisters?"

"No. I'm an only child."

"How about your parents?"

It was the question Nina was dreading. She felt the blood leaving her face, and now Patrick did notice that something was wrong.

It was he who now reached out to take her hand. "I'm sorry if I've said something I shouldn't have," he said. "You don't have to answer."

"No, it's okay," she said resignedly. Then, in a voice that rose alarmingly in agitation, "My father died when I was fifteen."

She had to look away from him, as tears filled her eyes.

He continued to hold on to her hand, looking stupefied. "I'm so sorry," he whispered.

Then he did something strange. Taking up her hand, he placed it against his own cheek, and then he kissed the palm fervently.

The tenderness of the gesture made the tears that had welled up in her eyes cascade down her cheeks. She let out a little sob that was both a cry of sorrow and an expression of gratitude for his unaffected sympathy. But as she noticed others in the shop looking curiously at her, she covered her mouth with her free hand.

When Patrick released her hand, she clumsily fished through her purse to find a Kleenex that she used to mop up her face.

"I'm sorry," she said. "It was twenty years ago, but somehow I've never gotten over it. Nor has my mom."

"It's a horrible thing to go through," he said.

"My mom has gone into, like, permanent mourning. It's silly, really."

"It isn't silly," he said, with a hint of censure in his voice.

"Well, okay, but you'd think that after all this time I'd be able to deal with it better."

"How'd he die?" he said, not sure whether he should even pursue the subject.

"A plane crash," she said glumly.

"A plane crash?" he said in disbelief.

"I don't mean a commercial liner. It was one of those silly little private planes that only seat two or three. It was his hobby—and he stupidly went out in bad weather, saying cockily, 'Oh, I can handle it.' Well, he didn't!"

Those final words were spoken so bitterly that Patrick almost felt as if she had struck him.

"Well, it does seem careless of him," he said.

"That's one way of putting it," she said venomously.

After a little silence he said, "We don't seem to be doing very well finding pleasant topics to talk about. Maybe we should start over."

"I have a better idea," she said, struggling to regain her composure. "Why don't we take a walk? It's such good weather out, and I think the fresh air would do us good."

"An excellent idea."

Nina suggested Ravenna Park, a smallish park not terribly far away. Patrick didn't know the place very well, so he was reliant on Nina to direct him as he drove them there. Once they got there, he let her lead the way. There were trails all through the park, and some of them took you to incredible stretches of old-growth trees that loomed above you like the stately patriarchs that they are. They said little as they walked, just enjoying each other's company. Nina had to resist reaching out and taking Patrick's hand: that might send more of a signal than she wanted to send, even though her heart was already fluttering as she thought about him. Maybe he is the one! Or even if he isn't, he seems about the nicest, kindest, sweetest man I've met in many a day.

Impulsively, she said, "Let's go off the trail a bit. There's a place over there"—she gestured to her right—"that I've always wanted to explore."

She boldly ventured in that direction, but Patrick hung back. "Um, what if there's poison ivy there?" he said nervously.

"There's no poison ivy," she said dismissively. "Anyway, your legs are covered, so you can't get infected. Come you, you coward!"

She was teasing, but that brash challenge urged him on to follow, and even to rush past her. At one point she had to grab him by the back of his shirt and say, "No, not that way—that way." And she suddenly headed off to her left.

The ground was now both thick with vegetation and quite uneven. But Nina, now light-hearted and laughing giddily at times, tripped along as if on a paved sidewalk.

And that's when disaster struck.

She had turned her head to see how far back Patrick was—and he was pretty far back, walking far more gingerly than she was—when her ankle turned on a rock. She didn't merely fall down, but tumbled into a kind of pit or depression that was far deeper than it looked on the surface. With a wild cry, she all but disappeared from view as Patrick came rushing up to where she had seemingly been swallowed up by the earth.

"Nina!" he cried. "What's happened to you?"

"Help!" she shrieked. "I'm down here!"

As Patrick came up, he saw where she had fallen. The pit was well over six feet deep, and Nina was sprawled at the bottom of it.

"Nina! Are you hurt?" he said.

She looked up at him. "Well, incredibly enough, I'm not. But I'm going to need some help getting out of this hole, or whatever it is."

"Of course."

And with that, Patrick carefully slid down the hole, feet first, in such a way that he landed close to where Nina was lying flat on her back. In fact, he almost stepped on her, as the hole's dimensions were not large.

"Can you stand up?" he said, looking down at her warily and afraid to touch her.

"Yes, of course," she said impatiently. "But maybe you can help?"

He extended his arms, and she took them and pulled herself up to a standing position.

"Didn't turn that ankle?" he asked urgently.

"No, it's fine. But I'm a mess! My whole outfit is covered with dirt."

"Don't worry about that," he said. "We just have to get you out of here."

Nina extended her arms upward as far as they would go. "I can't reach the top of this hole." She didn't have to say: And you can't either. "You're going to have to give me a boost."

He just looked at her dubiously.

"Patrick," she said sharply, "put your arms on my hips and give me a boost. I'm sure you can manage—you look pretty strong."

He swallowed before complying. Taking her by the waist, he easily lifted her a foot or so off the ground. But that wasn't enough, as she barely managed to get her hands up to the surface. "Higher, Patrick! Lift me higher!"

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bykathrynmburke© 14 comments/ 21744 views/ 27 favorites

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