Lips pursed, face blushed, she avoids my eyes as she surrenders the credit card that pays my bail. Seven hundred fifty dollars for disturbing the peace. I suppose that’s an appropriate description of my transgression.

The drive home will take six hours. She stares at the road ahead and I stare out my window, neither saying a word. I press the bruises on my knuckles with my thumb. Idiot.

This is not our norm. For us, long rides like this are never silent, they are highly anticipated delights consisting of great conversations about everything and nothing, singing like we didn’t care, laughing; a shared intimacy like none I’d ever experienced before her.

Will we ever have that again?  I close my stinging eyes and reminisce.

We had met at work fifteen years earlier, where she was the mature-beyond-her-years, sapiosexual siren and I was the charmingly immature, pseudo-intellectual older man. It took me over a year to work up the courage to ask her out, expecting rejection, or worse, ridicule. But she agreed to a date and immediately we clicked. Despite our difference in age, we had so much in common and she brought out the best, and helped me suppress the worst in me. I quickly realized she was the one—the love of my life, my soulmate.

The only place we didn’t click was in bed. Yes, I was older but older doesn’t always equate to more experienced and by then, my willing mind and soul were betrayed by my not always capable and poorly equipped body. With every fiber of my being I wanted to rock her world, leave her breathless, body tingling, mind blown, but that was not our reality.

Not being able to sexually satisfy the love of your life is a soul ulcer. I suggested once, that she might be happier with someone else, a better lover, someone closer to her own age. She scoffed at that, assured me that the love we had was infinitely more important to her than any potential sexual gratification. We never spoke of it again.

I knew there was a chance she would eventually take a lover and if not for my insecurities, I would have wished that for her, perhaps paid for a skilled and beautiful man as a birthday present. So, after a dozen years of wedded bliss, I wasn’t completely stunned when I learned she had.

She was discreet and I feigned obliviousness. The quickly deleted text, the hotel directions on the second screen of her GPS, the Victoria Secret receipt that had fallen from her coat pocket for lingerie that never graced our home. It was rare, a once or twice a year event at most, over the course of the past three years.

Did it hurt? More than anything I had experienced. Did I let that change our life? Absolutely not. So long as she kept it compartmentalized… Men did this thing all the time, why couldn’t she?

One day she came home, ran past me and locked herself in the dark bedroom, pillow-muffled sobs escaping beneath the door. She refused to speak to me or to eat and I felt helpless and confused.

She’d left her phone in her purse on the kitchen table, and while not normally one to pry, I had to look for clues. A text message from her best friend asking, Are you okay? Is there anything I can do for you? I scrolled up and saw the notice of his death. Forty-year old businessman, no history of medical issues dies unexpectedly of massive heart attack. The love of my life was grieving over the loss of her lover. 

Head spinning, chest tightening, I broke into a sweat and ran to the commode. Hours later, having recovered from the physical effects, I tried once again to get her to come out of our room, or to let me in so we could talk. She refused. The crushing heartache was unbearable, and for the first time, I questioned my place in her life. How could the brief and occasional physical pleasure mean more to her than our love?

I found the address of the funeral home online. Without hesitation, I paid a ridiculous amount for a plane ticket and off I went, on a quest to learn about this man that had committed the unforgivable sin, this man who had broken her heart.

I slipped in through a side door, circulating the fringes of the room, watching the slideshow delivered on a 70-inch monitor while catching whispered conversations between old college pals and work associates. I was stunned by the incongruences of the two. Slideshow images displayed a family man, father of twin boys, a loving husband, kissing his beautiful wife, smiling couple on vacation, backyard barbeques with friends—the All-American family. Whispered conversations about the charmer with “bimbos” in every town, a modern “Trail of Tears,” the “fuck-em and forget-em king,” as if this was an accomplishment to be admired.

This is so wrong. This is the guy she’s mourning? This incogitant ass didn’t love her; his world didn’t revolve around her. This fucking piece of shit did not earn a single of my wife’s tears. The rage was overpowering. I strode past the grieving widow, looked down into the casket and punched that sonofabitch in the face a half-dozen times, cursing over the screams of those gathered, before being subdued.

We pull into the driveway and she shuts off the car but neither attempts to leave. Her shoulders shake and tears run down her cheeks. I catch her tears with my fingers and sob-whisper, “I’m sorry.”

She takes my hand and tenderly kisses the bruised knuckles. “Me too.”

Operations Manager by day and daydreamer by nature, Tom co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” and is the winner of The Sunlight Press 2017 Spring Fiction contest. He is grateful and honored that his work has appeared in notable publications such as Porridge Magazine, Dodging The Rain, Five2One Magazine, Figroot Press, Occulum, The Ginger Collect, Fictive Dream, Deracine, and The Cabinet of Heed. When not reading or staring at the Ohio River, Tom works on his writing