Caroline Alone Ch. 01byMortonGrange©
This is a story of a wife who cheats on her husband and the consequences for the broken family as they seek to extract their lives from the wreckage. I plan to publish about weekly, or when I can, in four parts, with Part 3 fitting in the Romance section. Sex occurs, but relationships, why they work and fail, provide the focus. And don't expect me to end by bringing on a bunch of Mafiosi cousins to dole out restorative justice to all and sundry in a final, uplifting bloodbath. So if this is not what you're looking for, try something else.
A lot of work goes into a story of this kind and I welcome feedback. The postings on my previous story, The Duel, which surprised me the most were from readers who disliked the characters or found the subject matter depressing. I can only protest that I write stories as I see them, and I honestly thought The Duel was an uplifting tale of redemption. However, this time, I hope there is sufficient upbeat material to counterbalance the bad behaviour and that you can empathise with my characters and even like them. Or, at least, some of you.
A word about Brighton. Brighton is a real English town on the south coast which has two universities and is famous for its pier and Regency Pavilion. Parts of this story take place in a town called Brighton which is consistent with the real place, but the university in the story, for reasons of my own, could be neither of the real universities.
Copyright MortonGrange 2013
Jack is running to outpace the gale and the race has come to its bleakest moment, the end far from sight. He's running fast, doing his best to reach the point of exhaustion where thought is lost in the physical response. The rain and wind, when it arrives, turns a bright evening instantly into night. At the crossroads he follows a path across a field, the leaves from the oilseed crop snagging his ankles, the blossoms staining his flesh with dirty yellow pollen and smelling like death, the rain running down his legs into his shoes. Now the wind is on his face and his extremities are cold, numbing the pain. Eventually he reaches the shelter of a hedge and his feet carry him faster along a grassy bridleway, mind escaping body. He wants to keep running, but knows he must go home. Time will reveal what he must do.
It's dark and very late when he arrives home and he hopes Caroline is asleep, but he finds every light burning and his wife in the kitchen. She looks up and he wonders what he sees in those big, brown eyes: relief, panic, regret, pity, contempt, impatience with his histrionics? She comments on his bedraggled appearance, but he turns to the sink and without taking a cup bends his head and drinks from the running tap as if from a waterfall. Then he showers and goes to bed. There's no room for self pity and life will look better tomorrow. But for now he can't think how his life can ever be right again.
Tuesday was Damien's day. Caroline woke thinking about their meeting and it occupied her thoughts while she got the children out of bed, dressed them for school and sat them down to eat the cornflakes and eggs laid out in the kitchen by Jack, who had already left for work. There was little time for her own preparations, but she went through her routines with as much care as she could: shower, makeup, hair and her newest business suit. Then she got the children into her car and sped across town to Amy's school. As always, Amy rushed off happily into the playground without a backward glance. Then on to Ben's school, where he joined the throng of arrivals with a visible reluctance, but without protest. Motherly duties done, Caroline did her best with the traffic to get to work on time, determined to put in two hours" work until it was time.
She more or less succeeded, concentrating furiously as she reviewed the wording of a contract and fervently hoping she was hiding her excited manner from her colleagues. At 11.30 she left work, taking her iPad so that she could stay in touch via email. Damien lived in a modern complex in the centre of Dixborough, a small town five miles out of the city and she drove along the clear road with her pleasure lifted by every familiar sight along the route.
Damien waited for her at the door of his modern three-storey town house, tall and slim and dressed in a colourful check shirt. They fell straight into one another's arms with almost nothing said and she frogmarched Damien backwards into the bedroom. Time was precious.
Damien was fit from rugby and gym workouts and the sex was straightforward and energetic. They had a pattern which they followed, stripping off their clothes, falling on the bed and getting to grips with little foreplay. Caroline marvelled at his strength and the beauty of his body and orgasmed without difficulty more than once before he was done. Then they cuddled and caressed one another before making love again, with less energy and more sensitivity. Afterwards they showered, dressed and ate a lunch which Damien had prepared earlier – a salad with smoked salmon, prawns and avocado. It was delicious as always and she only wished she could have a glass of wine – but not only had she to drive back to work, but she was determined to keep her wits about her with everything to do with Damien. Details and discipline mattered in handling this major complication in her life.
The affair – and that's what Caroline called it to herself – was unexpected, unplanned and something she believed could never happen. Once she'd overcome her surprise, she knew it must be allowed to take its course. She would be discreet, it would be a secret between her lover and herself and she wouldn't let it affect her family. She met Damien at lunchtime, stretched agreeably with a little flexitime. Communication was restricted to work email and a phone bought for the purpose and kept in the locked glove compartment of her car. Damien was mostly content with these restrictions; it made it easier for him to keep his bachelor life in compartments and he had no wish for messy commitments. Occasionally they found an opportunity to meet outside these restrictions, but only when she was certain there was no risk.
The whole thing was unaccountable and no fault of hers and she had no intention of making a drama out of a natural human instinct for love and companionship. Her love for Jack was not diminished by one drop. Rather the opposite – her cup was overflowing with love and in consequence she could handle husband and family life with more energy and enthusiasm than usual. Once she'd accepted her fate, she was happier, confident and more alive to the world around her. This was how a woman was meant to be and she wondered that she could have been ignorant for so long of what she was missing. Life went on as before, but busier and with more purpose.
She gave Jack lots of attention to be sure that her time out was having no detrimental effect, and this made her feel that they had never been better together. She knew him so well and could be confident he knew nothing – he continued his routines, spent a lot of time playing silly games with the children, was affectionate around the house and in bed and barely took note of her explanation for why her working day was a little longer – to make up flexitime for her longer lunch hours. She appreciated Jack for his tolerance and kindness and his calm, his competence with the children and his strength in adversity. He'd see them through anything. She'd always been able to read his feelings and if there was ever the least hint that she was letting her adventure get to him she would end it. To do so would require moral strength but she'd deal with it long before any real harm came about. Living a secret life was a challenge, but one she managed with a flourish. When she was retired and a grandmother she's look back on this time with pride and pleasure. It was everybody's duty to live life to the full.
All the same, there was a burden she carried and a secret life gave her endless practical problems to resolve. One lovely aspect of her affair was the enthusiasm she and Damien shared for the theatre and music – things completely outside Jack's interests. Jack hated histrionics of any kind – it was a big weakness – whereas she enjoyed drama and showiness, the release of emotions in dance and music and of showing off and performance. This was all alien to her work and her family and she'd only discovered what it meant to her through Damien.
Damien frequently suggested they go to a show, but she had to turn him down most of the time; it was too great a risk and couldn't be fitted into the discipline she had set out to protect Jack and the children. She wasn't going to spend evenings away from home and she wasn't going to risk being seen with her lover among a local audience. She wanted Damien to accept this and disliked the way he continued to push the issue.
Occasions for an extended debauch were rare. Once Damien took leave when she was in London overnight for work and they went to the opera and made the most of the night in a hotel. On another occasion Jack was to drive the children to her parents and leave them for the weekend. She would normally have gone with them for the ride, but on this occasion there was a plausible excuse in that she would be home from work later than was convenient for Jack to leave. She insisted he went without her. It was then decided that Jack would stay overnight so that he could enjoy her father's wine without worrying about being over the limit for driving.
"Come back early or the weekend will be spoiled," said Caroline, kissing him goodbye, and within an hour of his leaving, she was with Damien. It was too late to get to a show, but they had a great meal at a smart restaurant Damien knew and were together until three a.m., when Caroline insisted on leaving – but not until they had made love one final time – the most passionate and energetic Caroline could recall. She was in her own bed long before Jack arrived sleepy and looking for breakfast.
In many ways she and Damien were a good match. They would watch a DVD while they ate lunch and listen to music while making love. These were precious moments when she felt completely herself, without pressure to behave for others. Yes, Damien made demands, but they were expressions of his love and her willingness to give him most of what he wanted reflected her contentment. Of course she loved him. They never talked about Jack or where the affair might lead. What they had was too precious to put at risk. Even giving presents was fraught with rules. Damien could only give ephemeral or token gifts – nothing that might later be suspicious. A book was okay if it was one she might buy for herself, or some cosmetic which Jack would never recognise as expensive, or a meal which would leave no trace. But no flowers or jewellery or clothing. And even when they went for a meal, which they did whenever circumstances of their work days allowed, they drove far away and Caroline was careful to choose something which would not linger on her breath, and eat so that there was still room for her evening meal with the family. It was only a question of having a plan and sticking to it.
Damien made a virtue of being a bachelor by choice, explaining how it allowed him to maintain his severely masculine home just as he liked it and to entertain a large circle of friends. Unattached as he was, there was no problem with introducing his lover to his friends as his girlfriend. At first Caroline was wary and anxious to be sure these friends couldn't know Jack or her other life. But she got used to being Damien's latest girl and enjoyed the infrequent social occasions, satisfied that the essential precautions had been observed.
In any case, she and Damien mostly wanted to be alone together, but when the opportunity occurred she was happy to meet for lunch with his friends. She understood his need to show off his love interest and for her it was a way of taking some of the intensity out of their meetings and acting as if theirs was a normal relationship.
One other benefit of the affair was Caroline's new confidence and energy at work. She could discuss her work with Damien in a way she wouldn't inflict on Jack, who had his own busy job. He helped her plan a new communications strategy which raised her profile with senior management and her success in keeping the interest of such a clever man gave her confidence in putting forward her ideas at work. Handling two lives successfully and with the addition of Damien's support behind her, she was a stronger and better person. She felt the irony when she was taken aside by an executive director at the end of a board meeting and told that it was likely she would be offered a new position as operations manager – effectively in charge of the main business. For the first time in her affair it turned and stabbed her heart. She had coveted this job and it hurt that she should succeed as a result of her secret affair.
Irrational though she knew it to be, she told her boss she would turn the job down. It wasn't right to accept in the circumstances and she didn't feel up to managing family, new job and a demanding affair.
For the first time she wondered whether she could justify her part-life with Damien. She and Jack had been married twelve years and that seemed more or less an eternity. They had a comfortable house, a boy of eleven and a girl of nine and careers which were becoming interesting. A lover had never been part of the plan.
She was not at all the flirtatious kind. If anything she was rather severe. The first thing she noticed when she met Damien was his slate grey hair, like wire wool curling over the temples and around his ear. His height was set off by a well-cut, sleek Aquascutum suit, colourful pink tie and he had impeccably manicured nails. He was one of a group of otherwise nondescript management consultants brought in by her employers to help with their strategic planning. She worked for a medium-sized market research company specialising in on-line and telephone surveys and there was a feeling that they were being squeezed in the marketplace by a couple of increasingly dominant large players. Either they must grow themselves or find a specialist or lucrative niche where they could be safe. The consultants would lead them through some future scenarios to help them settle on a strategy. There were a number of inconclusive workshops when Caroline was sure they were getting nowhere and the dull men in smart suits seemed to be laughing at their stupidity. But then she was in a series of one-to-one meetings in which she was quizzed on her specialist knowledge. At once she felt they might be onto something worthwhile and she started to get a sense of purpose. She had no sense of the consultants as individuals until her first meeting alone with Damien. He was building a model of costs against volume of activity and his questions about her operations were sharp and demanding.
They had one meeting and he asked for another because they were not finished. At first she was impressed with his speed of thought and the ease with which he assimilated her explanations and formulated them into concepts and structures. It was a good discussion and she felt he understood the complexity of her work in a way that nobody else had. Only then did she start to notice how good-looking he was in a fresh, head boy, clean-cut way. She thought he must work out or do sports with his mates in the evening. She liked the way his exercise gave him an all-over healthy padding of muscle, whereas Jack, who ran, was skin and bone from head to foot.
His manners were polished too and he had the calm authoritative way of speaking adopted by consultants the world over, unsurprised by what people said and always appearing to understand. She could talk to him about anything.
Later, when the project was drawing to a close, he invited her to lunch, promising to give her an informal heads-up on the main conclusions and recommendations in the report. She was flattered to have his confidence. As it turned out, they spent most of the meal talking about art and theatre. In the first minutes in response to polite questions about one another they had discovered a common interest in Broadway musicals. Caroline had begun by telling Damien about her family, but knowing this would not interest him, had searched for something more suitable to discuss. They discovered they had both been to an opera performance given locally by the Glyndebourne touring company. Musicals led on from that and soon nothing could stop their conversation. It was only when they were drinking coffee that they got round to the recommendations on business strategy. The recommendations were radical and she listened with interest to Damien's arguments in favour, deciding immediately that she agreed with him.
By then she'd had time to absorb the shock. It had come at the start of the meal and she'd known at once there was no escape from what she felt. It wasn't because he was handsome, or that he understood her so well, or that he was cultured and intelligent, or that he had a brilliant career. He had all those attributes, but what she felt was a deeper, spiritual connection with someone she felt she should have known all her life.
The blow disoriented her. They were talking about nothing that mattered and an instant later she was in love. It gripped her like a strangler's hand and she could struggle but not escape. At first she distrusted the feeling. She was a married woman with a family. A happily married woman, which she was, didn't fall in love; there was nothing to provoke it. Her love for her husband was a shield through which no wayward hint of passion could creep; her heart was a vessel already full. She wasn't an adolescent; she was in charge of her feelings and couldn't love this man. But nothing had ever happened to her like this before.
Her chatter became forced and she was sure she must be staring at Damien like a doe-eyed girl. He seemed to notice nothing and happily ate the meal and chatted easily in response to every lead of hers. By the end of the meal she knew she had to become his lover or die unfulfilled.
Her first idea was that she would have to leave Jack and the children and start a new life with Damien. She couldn't imagine creeping around Jack forever afraid of forgetting some detail of the deceptions required for a secret affair. Nor did she fancy living with the guilt she imagined she would feel at cheating on her husband and children. She needed the courage of her convictions and make a clean break.
A week passed during which she and Damien exchanged intense emails on their work accounts, loosely sanctioned by discussion of the new strategy, the consultants" report having set up a huge battle among Caroline's executive board members.
What shocked her was that family life went on as before. She keyed herself up and looked into Jack's eyes knowing that love for Damien filled her head to bursting. She wanted him to say something, at least to notice that something immense had happened to her. He smiled happily and kissed her cheek. He saw nothing – knew nothing about the momentous shift in her life – and in place of shame she was relieved and gratified that she had deceived him.
It was unbelievable. She'd fallen passionately in love with a stranger and her husband hadn't noticed. How could he be so careless about something so important to her? She felt a twinge of pride in her superiority. If Jack wasn't going to notice then how could he be hurt by what she did?
She and Damien agreed to meet again on the pretence of discussing one of the many issues raised by the consultants" report. She got to the restaurant and in place of a businesslike handshake they fell into one another's arms, smothering one another with needy kisses. They could not stand against the cyclone and could barely sit still for the meal. She fiddled with her food and he stared at her with violence. They had little to say and left as soon as they decently could. Damien drove them out of town and along winding lanes to a hay pasture where they lay in the sun under a hedge and made love, clothes bunched and sweat on their foreheads. It was all-absorbing and there was no guilt. They clung to one another afterwards and only tidied themselves up and started back to town when the sun had moved behind the hedge and they were in shade.