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Decisions, Decisions
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Ken Orford

Modern Fiction

15




It had been a good day. No, it had been a bloody brilliant day. When I’d set off to work after giving Sandie a hug – she has every other Friday off, so she was still not dressed – I had been hoping we’d win the contract. But it wasn’t just that I’d been part of the team that won the biggest contract in the company’s history – and the bonus that would go with that. Oh no, my ear to ear grin was because I had also got the new Director of Projects job. Yes, it was truly a most excellent day.

So as I drove the last half mile to my home, my thoughts were all decisions; a 7 series or an A8? The Seychelles or Hawaii? What a great fortieth birthday present that would be for Sandie. Having the twins young had meant we’d struggled a lot early on – but they were now coming to the end of their first year at Uni, and studying hard (that and getting gazebo’d half the time). So things were really coming together. We’d have money, and the time and space to enjoy it – and each other.

I pulled up outside the house. Sandie had obviously assumed I’d be home at my usual seven o’clock and not halfway through the afternoon; her car was parked at angle so the drive was blocked. I parked round the corner, collected the champagne and flowers from the back seat, and headed off to surprise the love of my life.

Little did I know that I was the one in for a surprise.

I smiled to myself. Parking round the corner meant that she wouldn’t have seen me coming. I could sneak in the back door and give her a real surprise. I raised my eyebrows when I saw that it was ajar. Then I noticed a pile of washing, still only half hung out to dry. So she’d obviously been interrupted and gone inside. Gently pushing the door I stepped inside as lightly as I could. I could hear her voice coming from the study. She was laughing. Then she was silent for a few seconds and I heard her laughing voice again:

“Oh Sal, of course I love him. He’s … he’s ... just everything to me.”

So, she was on the phone to her sister. But as the conversation was about me I decided to listen. And you know what they say about eavesdropping …

More silence – well, Sally can certainly talk.

“No! Of course not. He’s a great dad, a fantastic husband, and like I said he’s everything to me. It’s just that … well, this is just … you know … different.”

Oh fuck! This had better not mean what I think it does …

My thoughts screamed at me in the silence as Sandie listened to Sally.

I’m putting two and two together and getting five. I must be.

I could feel my insides start to churn. Anticipation, fear, anxiety. I was dragged back by Sandie’s voice.

“Yes, I know my situation is nothing like yours. I know Alan’s great and nothing like that arsehole you saddled yourself with. God, we’ve been together since I was nineteen. It’s just this is … somehow … oh, you know … exciting.”

The churning was turning into physical sickness. For a moment I thought I’d have to go out or risk throwing up into the kitchen sink. But I was paralysed, riveted to the spot: unable to move or make a sound. I wanted to hear more. I wanted to know who it was. I wanted to torture myself with all the gory details.

“Oh Sal, you worry too much. I just want a bit of excitement with Simon.”

Simon! Simon? Who the hell is Simon?

“And Alan need never know. So no harm will be done.”

I could imagine Sally’s half of the conversation. Telling her big sister not to be an idiot. Not to risk everything. I looked at the spots of rain starting to appear on the windows, and the greyness that had clouded my sunny day.

“Listen Sal, I gotta go. I’ve got some washing out and it’s starting to piss it down.”

Oh Christ! She’s hanging up!

Laden with flowers and bottle I got out of the door as quickly and as silently as I could. It was only when I got back to the car I realised that while I was listening, I must have been gripping the flowers so tightly that I’d crushed the stems.

Crushed! Hmph – not the only thing!

I sat in the car and tried to make some sense out of the heap of jumble that was my thoughts. All I could see were questions. Who was Simon? How long has she been seeing him? Have they done it yet? Will she, if she hasn’t? What does it mean for us? Should I confront her? Should I leave her? Should I divorce her? What would I tell the kids?

Every question increased the size of the pit in my stomach. The desire to vomit had receded – but not by much. I wanted to run away. But in a funny kind of perverse way, I wanted to know all the details. Where did they meet? How often does she see him? Who else knows besides Sally? Does everyone know except me? Is he better at it than me? Is he bigger than me? Am I a laughing stock, with people sniggering behind my back: “That’s poor old Alan, his wife’s shagging Simon senseless every Wednesday night and he hasn’t the faintest idea!”

Oh God! What the hell am I going to do? Decisions, decisions.

Slowly, the jumble sorted itself out.

No, I wouldn’t leave her – yet! I had to know more. To find out who this Simon is and what he’s got that I haven’t. What’s the excitement he brings to her life? Am I that dull?

And I had to find out the details – how long, how often and – most importantly – how far has it gone?

I was just starting to feel like I was getting it together when the passenger door flew open. Sandie’s face was all concern and worry:

“Are you okay? What’s going on? Ted said he walked past the car quarter of an hour ago and saw you on his way to the shops. He was surprised to see you still there when he came back. He knocked and told me. Are you okay? What’s the matter? You look horrible.”

By this time she’d flung the flowers into the backseat she was holding my hand, just like she’d done for twenty years. All I could think about were those brown eyes staring at me. And her perfume filling my head and bringing back memories of her. Memories of a time when there was only me and no Simon.

I mumbled something about feeling a bit rubbish. Saying I had probably just eaten something I shouldn’t have. I smiled at her, don’t ask me how, and told her the flowers were for her and that we’d got the contract and I got a promotion.

“Alan, that’s great. But I think we’d better get you inside.”

The next hour or so is all a bit of a blur. I remember going off to bed and Sandie fussing over me. But I just didn’t want her near me, so I sent her off to make some tea while I crawled under the sheets.

Why don’t I want her to touch me? In a sense, nothing had changed. She’s still my loving wife of twenty years. She said she loves me, I heard her. The only thing that’s changed is I know she wants to … to what? Have a fling I guess is the best way to put it.

The cup of tea arrived, and I sat up cradling the mug in both my hands so I wouldn’t have to touch her, to touch the woman I loved. She stroked my brow and I forced myself not to recoil.

I have never understood men who hit the women they profess to love. But to my eternal shame, at that point, I came within a whisker of slapping her and calling her a lying bitch. But I didn’t – truth? I think I was probably a million miles from doing it – but at that moment I wanted her to feel the same hurt that I was feeling. But Instead, I just looked at her with a weak smile. It was my eyes that betrayed me I think.

“Alan? What’s the matter?”

Decisions, decisions – do I confront her?

I smiled weakly again and opened my mouth, trying to phrase the next words….I felt the lump in my throat, and the tightness in my chest. Then the words came out:

“You’d better ring Pedro’s and cancel the table. I don’t think I’m going to make it!”

In a split second, a door had shut and an opportunity to maybe sort out this garbage dump of a situation had gone.

Sandie went to make the call. I lay there … thinking. My head was going to explode if I thought about this any more. But I couldn’t stop. I listened to Sandie talking to the restaurant on the phone. That bloody telephone. I was beginning to think that ignorance was bliss. If I hadn’t overheard her, what difference would it make? We’d be drinking champagne and waiting for a taxi to take us to Pedro’s. We’d have an evening of laughter and fun, and when we got home ….

If only I hadn’t listened. If. If Sandie had parked straight, I would have parked in the drive and she’d have seen me coming. If. If I had made a noise coming into the house, she would have changed her conversation. If. If I hadn’t been so bloody vain and wanted to hear what she was saying about me. If. If if if … oh Christ, what a mess!

I heard her hang up and make her way back upstairs. I decided that feigning sleep was the easiest way out of having to talk to her. For just about the first time in twenty years I didn’t want to talk to her. I felt desperately lonely. I wanted to talk to my best friend, but she was the problem.

I heard the door open, a pause, and then close again. Relief. No pretending for a little while. Then the tears started to roll down my cheeks. My head was full of Sandie. I could smell her perfume on the pillow … the pillow, the bed.

Has Simon been here?

My mind had conjured up a young, muscular stud on top of my wife in OUR bed. Then she was astride him. Oh Christ I was going to go mad if I wasn’t careful. I shut the image of the two of them out of my head immediately. I had to get a grip. Put my business head on – organise my thoughts, my priorities. Get a grip.

Eventually, with thoughts still orbiting my brain, the emotional strain of the past few hours kicked in, my mind finally declared it had had enough and shut down – and I fell asleep.

It was dark when I was woken up by someone gently crawling into the bed next to me. I felt Sandie’s soft, cool arm against the warm skin of my torso. She must have felt me tense up, as she started to move her arm away. Then she relaxed and slowly snuggled towards me. I wanted to ask her if she snuggled up to Simon afterwards, but the fear, bitterness and anger of earlier were starting to be replaced with something else. I smiled to myself.

Thinking “Business” had been the answer …

As soon as her breathing had settled into a steady rhythm and I was sure she was asleep I eased my way out of the bed. I wasn’t quite ready for cuddles and close contact just yet.

I lay on the sofa in the lounge and stared at the ceiling. The emptiness in the pit of my stomach was still there, but nowhere near as bad as it had been earlier. I was starting to get used to the images my mind was creating of Sandie performing all kinds of sexual gymnastics with Simon. I even managed a smile as my mind created an overweight middle aged Simon. I was starting to be able to put these thoughts into a box in the corner of my mind by replacing them with decisions and action plans. First things first:

What’s my objective, my goal? What do I want?

That was quite easy. I wanted my marriage back and I wasn’t going to lie down and let someone take it from me without a fight. Just like fighting for a big contract – you do everything you can to win. I was going to do everything I could to keep Sandie.

I wanted everything how it was. Well, maybe not quite … I wanted to be happy, but I wanted Sandie to be happy too. If she was happy, she wouldn’t be chasing after other men. Would she?

I need to find out why she finds Simon exciting.

It really was just like fighting for a big contract. Know your opposition, and their strengths and weaknesses. And at the same time be honest with yourself about your own strong and weak points.

I need to find this Simon, and get the low down on him. And I need to appraise my marriage and me – and figure out why Sandie doesn’t find me exciting any more.

The third thing I needed to understand was the situation between them. How far had things gone? Had she been unfaithful? Despite what anyone says, you can’t be married for twenty years and not look at members of the opposite sex and let your imagination loose. But fantasising and acting on the fantasy are light years apart. Sure I’ve had women come on to me, and I’ve done my share of flirting. Really tempted? Yes. But my cold business brain always told me that I had too much to lose. And besides, it wasn’t like Sandie and I weren’t getting on. So maybe Sandie saw it differently.

So at which point has a line been crossed? From the conversation I overheard it seems Sandie has mentally already been unfaithful. Does that count? I need to know more!

So plan A was to know my enemy and find out what he had. Find out how far things had gone. Then also to evaluate myself and to try and make sure Sandie found me and our relationship as exciting as she did Simon.

Then my mind turned to plan B – every good Business Plan is flexible and has alternative strategies.

What do I do if Sandie DOESN’T find me exciting any more and I lose her? If Simon proves to be more than just a bit of excitement on the side and turns into a serious relationship?

I hoped with all my heart it never came to that decision. I tried to park it and hope, but it wouldn’t go away. Eventually I went back to sleep.

I was woken up with a soft tapping on my face and two huge green eyes looking at me, willing me to get up.

“Christ Mollie! I swear one day I will teach you to open your own pouch of Whiskas.”

I crawled off the sofa to the kitchen, and as I looked at the cat I thought of yesterday - the implications.

“Who’d get custody of you, eh Mollie?”

But the black and white bundle of fur just tucked into breakfast, and ignored my question. Well, since I was up I might as well start putting my plan into action. I went into the study and grabbed the laptop and turned it on. While it was booting up I made some coffee and settled down at the kitchen table.

The startup screen came up with its two icons. One labelled “Alan” and the other “Sandie”. I was just about to click mine when on the off chance I clicked Sandie’s. A password box came up – now that was new. We have never password protected our accounts on our home PC. I felt a lump in my throat.

Oh God, what’s she hiding?

As if I couldn’t guess.

Well, let’s crack this password.

Right, I knew it wouldn’t be something I would guess by chance. It would have to be something not me or family related. No, it couldn’t be that obvious, could it? I typed

“S – i – m – o – n – RETURN”

The screen flashed its welcome, and I was in. I just wished with all my heart the password had been wrong.

I clicked Outlook, nope nothing in her Inbox or Sentbox that looked out of place. I scanned her mail folders one at a time – nope, nothing untoward. I clicked her Deleted Items folder – Bingo!

She obviously only had Outlook clear it out every few days because there were three or four days worth of mails. Mainly junk, but three from a certain “simon.white@surrey.ac.uk”. I opened up the first. He talked about “the meeting today” and referred to Sandie’s head-teacher, and talked a bit about learning strategies for ADHD children. Then at the end he said how he couldn’t concentrate in the meeting because all he could think about was her, and her agreement to go out for a drink afterwards. Then there was the killer paragraph:

“I wasn’t disappointed. You are even smarter and funnier in private than you are in meetings. But the best part was the kiss in the car – well, I suppose it was a bit more than a kiss. It was the most passionate kiss I’ve had in a long, long time. Oh, and I love what your nipples did when I caressed them.”

I stood up, forced myself to take a very deep breath, poured some coffee – and forced the image of Simon’s hand inside Sandie’s bra out of my mind.

I remembered an old NLP trick. Close your eyes and think of an elephant. Got one? Now stop thinking about the elephant. What’s the problem? – yup, the pesky elephant won’t go away! The trick is to replace the elephant with something else. So, I thought of the twins, where were they, what were they doing – all that stuff. Slowly, the elephant of Simon’s hand and my wife’s breasts went away. Sort of. I turned back to the laptop.

His signature on the e-mail said he was a Ph.D and an “Educational Psychologist”.

So Sandie had met him through her work as the school SENCO – the lead teacher for Special Educational Needs children. Before I opened the second e-mail I looked for a reply - there it was.

“Hi Simon

I loved some of your ideas and we’ll certainly be putting them into practice in the school. But I must confess, the idea I liked most was to go for a drink :-)    

Yes, that kiss was something special for me too. It set my heart racing. We really must do it again, and soon!

S xxx”

So it looks like last Tuesday was their first time together – though I guess they’d known each other through work for a while and had been doing all the usual flirting.

I turned my attention to the next e-mail from Dr White – dated on Wednesday. No messing in this one – straight to the point – when and where could they meet? Sandie’s reply said she could do it pretty much anytime, but how about Saturday – “Alan always goes to the Rugby Club on Saturday afternoon, and gets back between six and seven. So we’d have all afternoon.”

Thursday’s e-mail from Alan was equally short – essentially, they would be meeting at 2pm today at the Three Frogs, a pub by the river. Then I smiled on two counts: firstly, he gave her his mobile number, which I typed into my phone. The second reason I smiled was because I had different plans for the afternoon. Last night while putting together my “get Sandie back” campaign, I had already decided we were going to be doing something else today. In a competition between rugby and Sandie, there was always only one winner.

The internet is a wonderful thing. Five minutes and I knew Simon White pretty well. 38, married, 2 teenage children, highly regarded in academic circles, and I even knew where he lived. There was a photo of him – some university thing – he looked surprisingly normal. If you think five minutes is overstating it – try it for yourself. Lastly, before I logged off I made a couple of purchases.

Now it was time for Plan A to start. Knowing what I knew, it would be tough acting normally. But that’s what I had to do. I made fresh coffee, heated up croissants, poured some juice and put them all on a tray. Then a last minute’s inspiration – I got a small, single flower vase and put one of the infamous crushed stem roses in it.

Sandie was half awake when I walked in – probably because Mollie was lying on her.

“Wow, well someone looks a lot better.”

Her smile has lost nothing of its shine in the last twenty years. Looking at her eyes I couldn’t believe this was the same woman that had written the e-mails I had read an hour ago.

Forget that, come on. Focus.

“This is to say I’m sorry I ruined what should have been a happy night for us.”

She reached up and stroked my stubbled cheek.

“You silly sod. Nothing to apologise for, I’m just really glad you’re okay.”

I put my hand to hers and squeezed it and held her gaze, smiling. She broke the spell and started to fuss over breakfast. We had pretty much the conversation that should have happened the previous night about the contract, the promotion. I was beginning to relax and wonder if everything was a mistake when she slipped an innocuous question into the conversation.

“Who are they playing at the Rugby club today?”

It was like a dagger!

“Oh I’m not sure. I’m not going in any case – I’ve got some plans for us – I hope you’re free. You are, aren’t you?”

I almost enjoyed her flustered response that she thought so.

“Good! Because this afternoon we have to make a big decision. Hawaii, South Africa, Australia, Peru, Thailand. You name it and we can be there the first week of your summer holidays!”

Sandie smiled and gave me a hug.

“That sounds wonderful.”

By mid morning I was showered and dressed and was just thinking about mowing the lawn. I was also feeling pretty good because Plan A seemed to have got off to a good start. I went downstairs – not deliberately quiet, but I guess I didn’t make much noise. I pushed open the kitchen door and Sandie jumped, she obviously hadn’t heard me. She had her mobile in her hand:

“Christ Alan, you scared the shit out of me. Creeping about like that.”

I smiled, apologised and generally acted cool, and pretended I hadn’t noticed the phone. I told her it was her turn and went to go outside as she started up the stairs. I turned and followed her, making some comments about the twins and when they’d be home. I wanted to stay with her until she went to shower, she’d have to put the phone down – it would look seriously odd if she took it into the bathroom. In the end, I won. She popped the phone into her drawer and went to get showered. I waited until I heard the shower going then quickly grabbed it and went to text messages. Nothing to Simon in the inbox – she was obviously deleting them as she went. But there was one in her sent messages. To Simon – all it said was:

“I’ll try xx”

Ah well, it was always too much to hope for that you get the contract straight away.”

I replaced the phone and went to mow, feeling more sad than betrayed, and wondering what she was going to try. My guess was he’d suggested an alternative meeting and she said she’d try and get there.

With the lawn mowed and Sandie showered, I did a quick change and we headed off to book the holiday of a lifetime. After a leisurely light lunch and coffee we hit the Travel Agents. We’d been discussing things in the car on the way and over lunch, and we’d pretty much decided on something quite active. In the end we settled for the Andes and the Galapagos. three weeks altogether with some walking and sightseeing on the South American mainland, then fly out and board a luxury yacht as we travel round the Galapagos.

Dates set, deposit paid we fell out of the shop giggling like teenagers. I gave her a huge hug – yesterday’s horrors seemed to belong to someone else’s life. We walked hand in hand down the High Street to the car park. Funny, holding hands was something we had always done; it was an instinctive reaction whenever we set off anywhere on foot.

“Okay”, I said, “where shall we go out to dinner to celebrate?”

There was a pause and for the briefest of moments, Sandie stopped.

“Oh, err, I … was going to go out with a few girls from work tonight.”

The silence didn’t last long before Sandie continued – speaking far too fast to be natural:

“I was going to mention it last night, but of course …” she shrugged and let the sentence hang itself. Then:

“But it’s okay, I don’t need to go, we can go out!”

She turned to me with a smile the reeked of sympathy. The eyes always give you away though.

Decisions, decisions. Do I play hardball and see just how keen she is to see Simon (I was pretty sure that was her plan), or do I give in easily?

I couldn’t believe the words coming out of my mouth:

“No, no – if you said you’d go, you should go. We’ll have plenty of time to celebrate later.”

She shook her head. I stopped and held her shoulders – forcing her to make eye contact.

“It’s okay, you’ve got a date with your girl friends…” (I think I may have put a bit too much emphasis on the “girl” bit), “so you go. It’s really okay.”

I didn’t add that I’d be pretty close behind her. She broke the eye contact:

“Well, if you’re sure you don’t mind?”

I squeezed her hand whilst feeling the pit of my stomach give way:

“Definitely! You go and have some …”

I was about to say fun, but for some reason my mind inserted:

“… excitement!”

She glanced back at me and gave me that weak smile again. This time accompanied by a puzzled look and a little nod.

The bubbly mood we had shared since lunchtime was now flat champagne. We talked, we held hands still – like I said, old habits and all that – but the warmth, the closeness, had gone.

I lay on the bed while Sandie got dressed. With every minute the tightness across my chest went in another notch. I really did feel so tense, so afraid I thought I would be sick. I could stop it all.

Should I just say something?

Decision, decisions.

No, this was an easy one. If I stopped her seeing Simon, there would just be someone else later. It was, as we say in business, time for “root cause analysis”. Get to the bottom, the cause of her wanting Simon. Somehow that didn’t make me feel any better. It made me feel even worse when I realised just how stunning she looked.

“You look great,” I said, “far too good for the girls. I thought it would be jeans and tee shirt time.”

She mumbled back something about not wanting to be outdone. My emotions were so screwed up I didn’t know if teasing her like that and watching her discomfort, was making me feel better or worse. In the end, she declared herself ready, and I asked her if she needed a lift. She smiled back:

“No, I won’t be drinking – well, I’ll make a glass of wine last half the night and then hit the J2O’s.”

“Okay. Where are you off to anyway?”

I wanted it to sound like a normal, casual question. But it felt like the Spanish Inquisition.

She replied they were meeting at the Stag and Hounds. Good choice. Busy Saturday night pub, quite often have a live band, and a good middle aged crowd. Not a place full of Magners swilling kids. Sandie grabbed her car keys, gave me a smile with barest hint of eye contact, gave me a peck on the cheek, and left.

I watched as she got into her car, her perfume still filling the air. The inescapable, gorgeous smell of Sandie.

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© Ken Orford, 2009



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