(Definitely not a stroke story. No actual sex in this story, just a lot of thinking about it.)
John lifted the cell phone laying on the computer desk and looked at it. He had already programmed the number in and his finger hovered over the "send" button. With a defeated sigh he laid the phone back down. Again.
How many times had he done this, he wondered. At least six times, just in this session of sitting in front of the computer, scanning over his late wife's computer files. So much to learn. So much he hadn't known about her.
Were all women like this? In spite of 23 years of marriage to Deborah, it was pretty obvious that she had possessed hidden depths he hadn't even suspected about her. Certainly not the least of which was she had been having an online affair with another woman.
How much simple little decisions change our lives, he thought. That morning, three months ago, when Deborah had stuck her head out of the front door and announced they were out of milk and did he want to run to the store or should she? He was busy cutting the lawn and had only raised an eyebrow at her question. Two minutes later she had pulled out of the garage. She had blown him a kiss and he had waved back.
He finished the front yard and had gone into the house for some water when the police car arrived. As it happened, the officer was an old friend of his and for one moment John had thought he was just stopping by for a visit. But the look on Bob's face said everything. Without a word being spoken, John knew something awful had happened.
The worst thing about the accident was that he couldn't even hate the other driver. A one in a million freak hose failure had deprived the driver of the 18 wheeler of his brakes. Employing his skills, the man had almost managed to pull off a miracle. But the wheel jumped out of his hands as he tried to ride up and over the curb to take his runaway truck into an open field. It veered back to the left and smashed into Deborah's car.
The driver came to the funeral home but had been unable to make himself go in. Finally his wife entered, hesitantly introduced herself and told John about her husband. John knew that he wasn't the best of men. But he had somehow found it in him to go outside and hold the other man in his arms as they both broke down.
Days and weeks blurred. The children had come by to try to help their father but they had their own lives to lead. Although they kept up the calls and the visits he was alone now. Slowly he had tried to get on with life. He had managed to pack a few things away. Hungrily he had seized on anything of hers she had written; letters, greeting cards she had given him, a notebook she had jotted in off and on about different things that caught her fancy.
One afternoon he booted up the computer to pay bills. He started to automatically log on with his user name and then paused. He had never really considered looking on through her files on the computer. "Her side" she had called it. He had always respected that. But there might be something there he wanted to know. She had been the one who had really used the computer to surf the net. He liked looking for items for his book collection and had a sneaky fondness for fan fiction, but she chatted online, shopped and had called him all the time to look at something interesting or funny she had found. He would like to see funny things now, laughter was at a premium lately.
He found she had dozens of files. And the number chat friends, wow. He looked through reams of saved conversations with people all over the world. He smiled as he read some of them. Even in electronic print, her warmth and wit came through as clear as it had in person. He began making notes on a piece of paper. Somehow he would have to find a way to let these friends know she wouldn't be back.
Finishing the file he had been browsing through, he clicked the next one. Instead of opening, a window popped up. "Please enter password".
Well, that was strange. He looked at the file folder's title. It innocuously read "Safety Issues". What could possibly need to be safeguarded in that?
Off and on for the next week he tried various combinations. He knew the odds were he'd never find it. Then he remembered Deborah's day planner. She had once told him she had the worst time recalling passwords, so she hid them in plain sight in the address section. He found the planner in a box he had stored different papers in and flipped through it.
There it was, under the letter "S". It read "Safety Issues - See Mimie on 7/12". Mimie wasn't a person, but rather the name of their dog. July the 12th was when they had brought her home.
John went to computer and brought up the file folder. When prompted he entered "Mimie7/12". "Incorrect Password, Please Re-enter", came up. Hmmmm. He tried "Mimie712". The folder opened and he was confronted by a number of sub-folders.
He ran his eyes over the titles. They all seemed innocuous. Among others, there were two folders labeled "Stories". No, one was "Other's Stories". He clicked that one and browsed through the titles of the files. They were listed by what appeared to be title and author. He was more the bookworm than she had been but he didn't recognize any of them.
"Joyride by Lucky-E-Eleven". "Gangster's Ball by Colleen Thomas"."Heather's Baptism by Matriarch"."Drifting by Katherine-T"."Sisters In Army Green by Ann Douglas"."After School by Dotrice." Who were all these people? He had never heard of them.
Mentally he shrugged and opened the first story. He finished it and opened the next story, then another and another. He read all the way through the entire list, his astonishment growing with every paragraph. The astonishment was matched by his shock and his disbelief. Just what the hell was going on.
He closed the folder. He hesitated over the next folder, the one that read only "Stories". If the other included stories written by others, he supposed that this one contained stories that Deborah herself had written. What would she have written about? Would they all be like the ones he had just read? Would they all be stories of women longing for, loving and being loved by other women?
He pushed back the chair and lit a cigarette with hands that trembled slightly. As he drew the acrid smoke into his lungs, a vagrant thought wandered through his mind. Deborah would kick him if she knew that he had started smoking again. But the routine helped calm him. He started back the day of the funeral. He decided he would come back to Deborah's stories. He selected another file titled "Import/Export".
This one shocked him. It was pictures. Pictures of women kissing, women touching, women engaged in sex with each other. John's finger stabbed the On/Off button on the monitor.
"My God," he thought. Had Deborah been a closet lesbian? If so, how long had it been going on? He wracked his brains.
Like many guys, the idea of two women together was in itself erotic, he admitted it. He knew that most porn films included at least one Female/Female scene and it wasn't to appeal to the women who might be watching. There was something insidiously seductive about two women making love. Like most guys though, he strongly suspected, the idea that your wife was one of the women involved, was not so very appealing.
He turned the monitor back on, swiftly closed the folders and shut down the computer. He had enough shocks for one day. He went to bed but didn't sleep, tossing and turning most of the night as images filled his mind. He finally gave up around 5 in the morning and got up. He made coffee and sat out on the front porch, watching the sun come up.
After a while he gave a huge sigh and went back into the house. He booted the computer up. He didn't know if this was some masochistic urge or what, but he needed to follow this trail to the end. He had lost sight somewhere of the woman he hade been married to for so long and he needed to find her.
He read her stories next. He found that not all of them were Lesbian tales, although a fair number were. He noted that the earlier ones of that genre usually involved a married woman, but the later ones didn't. He found that he enjoyed several of her more romantic type stories about men and women together and surprised himself by laughing aloud at a comic piece of hers.
He also noticed something else. When Deborah had written those earlier stories about married women having affairs with other women, she never made the husband out to be the cause of the whole thing. There was even one where the affair was discovered and the woman accepted full responsibility for it. Wow.
Now he was uncomfortable though. He shut down and took time to think. He wrestled with his thoughts over the next few days, at work and at home.
Had she had an affair with another woman? Was that where that story had come from? Was she nerving herself up to tell him, or to have plausible reasoning ready if he should have caught her?
John cast his mind back. Well, sure, there would have been opportunities. Deborah went out with the girls sometimes. She had lots of friends, of both sexes. He had never thought anything of even the mixed get-togethers she sometimes went to after work. He had joined some of those and she had always been delighted to see him. Hadn't see?
Now he wondered. He tried to think back and see any signs that she might have been closer to one of her friends than he could have suspected. How about Teresa, the divorced woman in her early fifties? Or Christy, the slightly heavy-set tall brunette? She had never been married. Or Rebecca, the heavily bosomed single mom who wore her clothes just a bit too tight and too short? Maybe it was Janey, the petite, young, bubbly blonde.
He suddenly cursed aloud and scolded himself. He didn't know anything yet and was reaching for conclusions out of thin air. After all, he had never worried about her cheating on him with other men. Why should he assume that she would with another woman, attracted to them or not? Maybe when he read the last folder, the one that was marked "Correspondence", he would know more.
That night he couldn't sleep, again. He tossed back the covers and stared at the ceiling. Had he become some stumbling block for Deborah, someone standing in the way of her wants and needs? All that he had found so far pointed to this attraction being of fairly recent origin, perhaps two years at the most. Had things changed between them? He couldn't think of any signs or signals. They still had a hearty sex life. Only days before the accident she had surprised him in the shower. He couldn't recall her insisting on different positions, or closing her eyes when she kissed him. They still snuggled on the couch on Sunday afternoons, a time that had been "theirs" all the way back to before they had even married.
The next day after work, he hesitated when he sat down at the computer. After a mental struggle, he decided to postpone any more reading until Friday when he could pursue it all night long and into the next day if needed.
The remaining days almost drove him crazy. His dreams at night were of Deborah locked in passion with a faceless woman. He saw himself coming into their bedroom and finding them together. He screamed at them and they didn't stop. At some point, she raised her head and looked through him as though he wasn't even there.
Finally it was Friday. He carried a glass dark with whiskey and two packs of cigarettes to the computer desk. He took a deep breath and went to reading.
He was surprised at the amount of correspondence Deborah had carried on. She was always the organized one of the tow of them he had to admit. She had friends all over the US, heck, the world. Not all were women, he noted with surprise. Some were men, who seemed to be other amateur writers who swapped story ideas, criticism and praise with her. Most of those were married and Deborah seemed to be on a personal basis with their wives too. Those emails all read like he suspected they were, happy notes between good friends.
The women though. My god. She knew women everywhere. In the Northeast, the West Coast, the rest of the South. The Midwest, the Plains States, the Southwest. Other countries and even continents. England, Australia, New Zealand, Canada. All were her friends. Some seemed to be more. Deborah had saved chats as well as emails and come of those were frankly erotic. He almost blushed at the cyber sex between her and those close friends.
It wasn't just that though. He found a close friend of hers in Canada, about the same age and general background as her own. He grinned when he read how Deborah described to her friend about catching him in the shower and her friend's tale back of surprising her own husband on their back deck. Never did a word creep in that either one didn't love their husband deeply or ever considered meeting in real life with each other, or anyone in fact, to carry out the fantasies they swapped.
Deborah was open and above board with everyone. She made it clear to all her correspondents that she was married, she was happy and her sole purpose online was to release her pent up feelings. She wasn't interested in phone-sex or in meeting anyone under any circumstances. Her friends included bisexuals, lesbians and straight women. They numbered butches and the more feminine women. Some were married, some were divorced, some were single. The only criteria John could find that his wife had applied was that they had to be interesting and intelligent.
John had copied the files and tried to sort them by who Deborah talked to the most. That was easy, he found out. Far and away, the most common name was Judith.
Judith was a middle-aged lesbian woman in the Midwest. She and Deborah met in a Lesbian chat room and become friends. How, John wasn't sure. Deborah had not kept the early emails or chat conversations, only those dating from the period when the two of them had become close friends.
It was Judith that Deborah told about her experiences with other women, beginning with a friend in college and continuing nearly up to the time when she met John. He blinked. They had agreed when they became serious together that whatever happened before they met was irrelevant but now it seemed to loom very large indeed.
From what he could gather, Deborah's attraction to other women had faded to the point where she herself thought those feelings were extinct. Then about three years ago she had found herself noticing other women again, paying attention to their movements, watching them. For a while she had confided these feelings to a journal. Her discovery of the chat rooms had allowed her to share those feelings with other women. With Judith in particular.
He did stiffen once when Judith teased Deborah, asking if she had ever fantasized about making love to someone else when she was with John. The "Yes" response scared him but he read on. The confession that the night they had come home from seeing "Braveheart" that she had pretended he was Mel Gibson in a kilt when he came out of the shower with a towel around his waist was reassuring.
There was no doubt that the two women had grown very close. The greetings had become more personal and the signatures more and more affectionate. The saved chats were extremely erotic and often Deborah told Judith how special she was. What almost sent John over the brink though, was when Deborah told Judith that "you are the first woman that I've ever really loved". Now he had a name to go with his nightmare.
Loved. How could she say that? She was his WIFE, damnit, she was supposed to love only him. Well, at least in that fashion. After all, she had loved their children, and her parents, and other relatives, and people at the church, and others she knew. But this was different. This was the love that only two people could share. Wasn't it?
It wasn't that he didn't believe two women could truly love each other. He had a lesbian cousin who had been with her partner for over a decade without either of them even looking at any one else. But how could Deborah's love for Judith not somehow have compromised, lessened the love she felt for him?
Was it somehow a failing of his? What did he not provide that made her reach out to Judith? He knew he wasn't some ideal husband. He had lazy spells sometime. He had been known to be a bit cheap. He knew he could, well, pout was the best word, when he didn't get his own way on occasion. But nobody was perfect and he ached at the thought he didn't meet all her needs.
Unconsciously he had at some point risen and began pacing back and forth. Out the door, down the hallway and back to the desk. He had always done that when he was trying to sort things out. She had teased him that it was the only way he could think. She had mentioned that also to her friends, to Judith.
He really couldn't even hate Judith. The woman seemed warm and intelligent and, well, sexy. While she had admitted she would have loved to be with Deborah in real life, she had once commented that if Deborah had contacted her and announced that she was flying up to see her that she, Judith, would immediately "contact your husband and tell him you've lost your mind".
Suddenly he sat down and pulled up the correspondence file again. He ran a search for his own name. The number of entries astonished him. He searched through them one by one. Never did he find one that disparaged him or made him feel like she wanted freedom from him. On the contrary, he found that she talked about him all the time, making it clear to all and sundry that she was a wife and mother first, and that above all she loved him. Her friends all acknowledged that. He actually laughed as he saw that over months Judith had gone from calling him "That Man" to "Your Man" and finally to just "John".
"I still love you, Deborah," he said aloud. "No matter what, no matter whom else you said 'I love you' to. I would have found a way to understand." Or would he have? It was a lot easier to think it now. He tried to picture Deborah sitting him down and telling him about her attraction to other women. Would he have accepted it, even with the assurances he found all through the letters that she was never going to take things any farther than online? Or would he have made a scene, said hurtful things, demanded she end things? It had shocked him and hurt him as it was.
He recalled the letter where she had replied to someone's question about if she would ever tell him. "No," she had written. "It would do nothing but hurt him and not for the world would I do that. I would give this up instantly if I thought he would find out about it. Real life will always come first."
Thinking of that he looked again at her outgoing mail. In the very last email she had drafted to Judith, but had never got a chance to send.
I could wish that too. I mean that we could meet. You know its a fantasy that makes me smile deep in the night. What we have shared, the closeness, the romance. Goodness woman. You are such a special person and I'm so glad that you have become part of my life. But you know it won't ever happen, not for real. I love John far too much to risk what he and I have for any other person or pleasure.
In some ways I feel as though I have used you. Our chats, our emails, your encouragement of my writing; all have helped me to deal with the reawakening of this side of me. I'm not ashamed of who I am, but at the same time I have always intended to remain right in the closet. Whether or not John could accept my bisexuality is not important. It MIGHT hurt him. He'll never know, because I will never cross that line for real. I love you even more for accepting unconditionally from me when we first got involved that no one would ever come before John.