The note took me by surprise.
“I never expected love to hurt so much.”
I read it and reread it over and over again, not quite making sense of the words so clearly written by her hand, the last words she would ever write. I found it beside her when I found her, dead, rigor mortis already setting in.
I didn’t even try to rouse her. It was obvious she had been dead for hours. I picked up the note, read it, and went back into the living room to call the police. I struggled to keep my emotions under control, more for the sake of our children than for anyone else. Inside I was falling apart.
The police came, and then the coroner. There were a few questions they had for me, but it was obvious there was no foul play involved. She had ended her life. The question really was why? Why did she kill herself, leaving behind her husband of seven years, and her two daughters, ages 2 and 4?
The why became clear after the funeral, when two of her co-workers came up to me, wondering if they should confide in me. I was distraught, but Leah was never one to shy away from anything, even uncomfortable conversations. Monica was less sure, but agreed I needed to know.
“Tonya,” Leah began, determined to get it over with, “was having an affair with James.”
“Her boss?” I asked, still feeling numb.
“Yeah,” she nodded. “It’s been going on for a while now.”
“We figure at least two years,” Monica added. “Probably longer.”
“And no one thought to tell me,” I say, more of a comment than a question.
“We weren’t sure until now,” Leah said.
“What makes you so sure now?”
“We found this on her computer,” Leah replied, handing me a thumb drive. “It’s her personal date book and diary. We were clearing out her office, her replacement is supposed to start next week, and we found it.”
“What am I supposed to do with it? Why does it matter now?”
“Because,” Leah smiled grimly, “you deserve to know the truth.”
“Tonya was our friend,” Monica sniffed, “but you were such a good husband. You deserved better than what she did to you.”
We talked for a few more minutes before we said our goodbyes and I rejoined my family. Tonya’s parents had already left, taking my daughters with them. They were watching them for me as I dealt with all the funeral preparations. They didn’t think I was stable at the moment. Seeing the disk drive in my hand, they were probably right.
There was a luncheon at the church after the burial service, which I dutifully attended. I kept my hand in my pocket, feeling the drive in my fingers. I didn’t was to lose it, even if I was unsure of whether or not I wanted to see it’s contents, but I knew I needed to know. I wanted to confirm Leah and Monica’s accusations against my wife, though I suspected they were right.
As soon as I could get away, I did. I got home, threw off my suit jacket and tie by the kitchen door, went straight to my office and opened up the files contained on the disk. I spent hours opening everything, devouring the contents, my hurt transforming into anger and disgust. By nightfall, I was happy the bitch was dead.
James, the branch president, was everything I wasn’t. He was brash and cocky, a financial wizard who could play the markets effortlessly. He took over the branch when my wife was just a lowly teller, and within weeks, was promoted to a junior loan officer, over more experienced employees at the bank. She was given raise after raise, promotion after promotion, the obvious favoritism angering the more deserving employees at the branch.
It didn’t take long before James became a regional vice president, still based from my wife’s branch, a branch she took over. During that time, I went from supporting our family to an unessential member of the family. My once loving wife no longer needed me. Her infatuation had been turned over to her boss.
The change was gradual, and I was so involved in earning my Master’s in education that I didn’t notice it at first. I had my eyes set on becoming a school administrator in order to support our growing family. I didn’t realize that my wife was becoming distant until it was too late. It had been months since we had been intimate, years since she had initiated any physical contact. Now I knew why. She was fucking her boss. She had fallen in love with him.
The trouble was James was a manipulator. He slept with scores of women, in addition to my wife. The scope of his dalliances were becoming apparent now that he was dead, killed by the husband of one of his lovers. How much my wife knew, I don’t know, but it seemed as though she was aware of at least a few of her rivals. It was his death that drove my wife to despair.
James, it turned out, was not a believer in safe sex. Never used condoms, and expected his mistresses to be on birth control. My wife had had several abortions in the past couple of years, trying to hide her affairs from me. The problem was that James had herpes, and that was what got him killed. His murderer had contracted it from his wife, and that was how he found out about the affairs. James, dead. He then turned his gun against his wife, and then himself. Their children were left orphans by the ordeal.
I closed my laptop and then my eyes. I felt like throwing up. I resolved to go get myself checked out, but I knew there wasn’t much danger of me contracting anything, seeing as how my wife refused to have sex with me, and always with a condom, but I needed to be sure. I would call my doctor in the morning. In the meantime, there were matters to attend to.
I cleared out her closet and began to purge her from the house, at least as much as I could. My daughters would demand to have some keepsakes from their mother, and as much as I hated her, I loved my children. I could not erase that bitch from their lives. I wasn’t as heartless as Tonya. I wouldn’t deprive them of the memory of their mother. She had already deprived her children of their mother.
At seven that night, there was a knock on the door. I wanted to ignore it and continue clearing out Tonya’s presence from my house, but the knocking grew more insistent. Annoyed, I stumped down the stairs and threw open the door. Leah was standing there, a bottle of wine in hand.
“I thought you might want to talk,” she said.
“Not really in the mood to talk,” I grumbled.
“I get that,” she said, pushing her way in regardless. She took off her jacket and threw it on the sofa. She was wearing a very revealing outfit, a short skirt, halter top, with thigh high hose and garter belt and stilettos. “I just don’t think you should be alone.”
“Come on in then,” I say unnecessarily as she went ahead of me to the kitchen and looked for two wine glasses, making herself way too comfortable in my home.
“I thought,” she said as she handed me a glass of Chardonnay, “that we could talk about your future.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, you’re single now, and your girls need a mother in their life.”
“And you’re offering your services?”
“Maybe,” she laughed, raising her glass in a toast. “Right now, I thought you could use the company of a woman. How long has it been since you’ve slept with a woman?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “Honestly, I don’t care.”
“I get that, but at least consider me tonight. I like you. I always thought you deserved better than Tonya. She was a good friend when she first started, but she became just as bad as James. His death drove her to kill herself, not caring what she was doing to her own family. I think she was getting ready to leave you all for him. Can you believe that?”
“I wish I could say no, but I suspected something was going on for a long time, even if I denied it to myself.”
I wanted to tell you,” she said sadly, “I really did, but Monica convinced me to stay out of it. She said it wasn’t any of our business. I shouldn’t have listened to her. I’m sorry.”
“Forget about it. There’s nothing to forgive. What’s done is done, and now I have to think about my daughters. They still don’t get that mommy’s never coming home. They will soon, and it’ll suck for them. At least their grammy is still here and healthy, and they have a couple of aunts to help out. We’ll get through this.”
“And I would like to help you, if you let me.”
“By seducing me?”
“We don’t have to do anything if you don’t want,” she smiled seductively. “Like I said, I thought you could use the company at least.”
“I’m okay with it,” I smiled in return. “Yesterday I would have said it would be in bad taste sleeping with someone on the day of your wife’s funeral.”
“And now, I don’t care. Yesterday I didn’t know my wife was a cheating bitch. Today I do. She killed herself because her lover died, leaving me with a fucking mess to clean up.”
“Look at it this way,” she downed her wine and topped it off again, “she had a generous retirement program and now proof that she was sleeping with the boss. You could sue the bank if you wanted to. It’s against company policy for managers to sleep with their employees. It would look bad if it got around that James was a philandering jack ass. They’ll settle quick.”
“How do you know?”
“I overheard a few of the higher ups discussing it, preparing for such an inevitability. They’re prepared to pay you a large settlement, enough to set you and your children up for life. I’d consider it.”
“And getting cozy with me has nothing to do with the prospect of the settlement?”
“Partly,” she laughed, “but like I said, you’re a good guy who didn’t deserve this.”
“And your husband?”
“My husband was fooling around with James and your wife,” she shrugged. “I’m looking into suing the bank, too.”
“Your husband fucked my wife?”
“She slept with half the bank officers to get promoted as fast as she did, men and women, husbands and wives. All she cared about was herself, power, and James. My husband was the same. I left him tonight. I’m staying with Monica for now.”
“You’re welcome to stay here the night,” I offer. “The bed is comfortable, I promise.”
“We’ll see,” she replied before moving closer to me. I kissed her, relishing the touch of a woman for the first time in ages, forgetting for the moment the memory of the woman who made a fool of me. For tonight, at least, I would remember the feeling of being with a woman.
Next story –
Previous story – First Step