Someone once said a hangover felt like a sharp spear of light, slicing your eyeballs out of their sockets and leaving every nerve rubbed raw, while a hundred drummers played in your head, complete with cymbals. I couldn’t remember who said it, but I could attest to the truth of it. The room spun. My stomach churned, and my mouth tasted like sour milk. I squinted against the bright sunlight. Darn, why hadn't I pulled the shades? What time was it anyway? Rolling over and lifting my head just high enough to look at the alarm clock, I tried to focus. My eyes hurt just looking at the digital numbers.
Ugh, eight o’clock already.
Slumping back down onto the soft mattress, I pressed my fingertips into my temples. Rotten headache, served me right. Had I really drank a half bottle of wine? God, I had drunk so much and barely remembered anything from last night. Anything that is, except Paul’s hands all over me. Oh Lord, Paul. Memory of last night flashed through my mind.
What had I done? Trying to block out the memory, I pulled the sheet over my head, and inched my way to the other side of the king-sized bed, glad for the coolness of the soft cotton sheets. What had possessed me last night? I wasn't some sex starved teen. I was married for cripes sake.
Oh God, how would I face Andrew?
Tears stung my eyes. Suddenly, my actions from last night became all too clear. How could I have done this? Just because Andrew had been inattentive and away on business a lot didn't justify having sex with another man.
I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and groaned. What attracted me to Paul anyway? He wasn't even my type. What the hell does a forty-two year old woman want with a twenty-eight year old? Hardly even a man. Still a kid. Young enough to almost be my son.
Stupid, stupid, stupid! I hated that I had given in. Hated the guilt that seeped into me. I’d never be able to live with this.
Sexy though Paul was, with his black curly hair and tanned muscular body, we had absolutely nothing in common. Paul, single, athletic and outgoing, bordered almost on the point of being crude.
Oh, he treated everyone polite enough, and all the women at the club fawned all over him. Maybe that was the problem — he acted like God’s gift to women.
So what in the world made me give into his seduction? Clearly, I hadn’t been thinking straight.
“Thinking straight?” I covered my head with the pillow. “Honey, you weren’t thinking at all.” My voice sounded harsh, raspy. I rolled over, eased myself up, sat on the edge of the bed, and pushed back the wave of nausea and dizziness. “Pull yourself together, girl. You have to think this through.”
Think, I couldn’t even focus. And how was I going to face Andrew when he came home later? I wasn’t good at lying, never had been. Andrew would guess the minute he saw me. Damn, damn, damn, what had I done?
I shuddered at the memory of last night. Paul hadn't spoken a single word the whole time we were together. He wasn't tender or gentle like Andrew. Our love making had been quick, fierce, almost animalistic. I held my head in my hands. Couldn't even call it lovemaking? Nothing more than sex. Pure unadulterated sex. Stupid, that’s what it was, plain, old, every day stupid. My stomach turned over, and tears slid down my cheeks.
Shamed and disgusted, I lay back down, curled into a ball, and wanted to disappear. Go back to sleep. Make it go away, a bad dream. But it wasn't a bad dream, and it wasn't going to go away.
I had to get up, move on, had to work through it. Forget it happened. Yeah, like that was possible. Never, in this lifetime. More importantly, I had to keep Andrew from finding out. Right now, I needed to get up. There was much to do today. Lying in bed and hiding wouldn't solve anything. Much as the thought appealed to me. There were errands to run and a dinner engagement with my friend Jenny.
Oh, crap, Jenny.
How could I even explain this to my friend? Jenny, who knew everything wasn't all peaches and cream between me and Andrew lately, certainly wouldn't suspect ‘little prude, Meg Baldwin’ of anything like this. I really wasn't a prude, but Jenny thought of me that way.
She held me up on some kind of pedestal. Seemed like everyone did. Heck, how had I earned that reputation anyway? I’d never been Miss Goody Two Shoes. I did the things most college students did. Drank too much, skipped classes sometimes. Shoot, there’d been a lot of skipped classes since I didn't really want to go to college.
But, hadn't I portrayed myself as the perfect wife with the perfect life? Nothing about me seemed perfect now. I had committed the ultimate sin, cheated on my husband. Cheated on my family. Cheated myself.
If someone had told me twenty years ago I’d be in this predicament, I would have laughed at them. Even a week, no two days ago, it would have cracked me up. Tears swelled in my eyes. I swiped them away. How was I supposed to act normal around my friend or, for that matter, around anyone? Nope, nothing else to do but postpone our dinner.
What good would that do? I’d have to see Jenny eventually, and then what? May as well go. Get it over and done with. I’d muddle through somehow. Besides, confession was good for the soul,
I didn't have to tell Jenny everything.
In fact, I didn't have to tell Jenny anything. Like that was possible. Jenny’d see right through me. Always had. She used to laugh at me in college. I had talked about nothing but marriage and having babies. That’s all I ever wanted. If my parents hadn't insisted, I wouldn't have gone to college in the first place. My dream was to find the perfect man, have a dozen kids, and become the perfect wife and mother.
Well, I had found the perfect man — Andrew. We were the perfect match. Weren't we? If Andrew found out, he’d never forgive me. Not that I’d blame him. I couldn't even forgive myself.
I eased off the bed and stumbled to the shower. “Damn it!” I bumped into the rocker along the way. My head pounded with every step like it was going to explode. Stopping in front of the large mirror over the vanity and half afraid to look, my reflection stared back at me.
Other than a tangled mass of dark brown hair that desperately needed a color touch-up, I didn't look any different. Even through my bloodshot eyes, my face looked normal. A bit pale, some dark circles, but under the circumstances that didn't surprise me.
What had I expected to see anyway? A sign on my forehead – cheating wife? I rubbed some cleansing cream on the dark circles under my eyes, relieved to see most of the black came off. Phew, just mascara. I wiped off the face cream and turned on the shower.
It took a bit of effort to step into the tub - my whole body ached. Pulling the curtain, I shivered at the initial shock of cold water. Finally, a hot steady stream rushed over me, but all the scrubbing didn’t take the dirty feeling from my body. Didn't take the feeling of Paul’s hands away. They’d be forever etched in my mind. Like an octopus he was. Couldn't keep his hands off of me. The thought of it repulsed me. Why had I been so attracted last night?
Guilt ridden and red from scrubbing, I snapped off the water, took a deep breath, and swallowed the nausea, rising in my throat. I stepped out of the shower and heard my daughter’s voice in the hall.
“Mom, Jason and I are leaving now,” Julie yelled. “Don’t forget we won’t be home for dinner.”
Oh God, the kids. What if they found out?
I wrapped my robe around me, tied it at the waist, and hurried to the doorway. Not only had I betrayed Andrew, I had betrayed my kids.
Hugging my fifteen–year-old daughter and giving her an extra hard squeeze, I barely got the words out. “Okay honey, you and Jason have fun. I’ll see you later.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Julie returned the hug.
The puzzled look wasn't lost on me as Julie hurried off to join her brother. I wasn't sure why I felt the need for the extra hug. Probably the guilt already eating at me.
What if the kids found out? What would they think of their mother? Why hadn't I thought of all this before I so foolishly given in to a whim? It wasn't like me to jump into things like this. I always thought things through. Why not this time? I had never done a spontaneous thing in my life.
I shook the thought from my mind, ran downstairs to make coffee and thought about the errands I needed to run. Grocery shopping, dry cleaners, post office, something else — damn, I hated when I couldn't remember. Why hadn't I written it down? Lately, I’d been so forgetful it scared me. Oh well, I’d think of it eventually.
Always one to get my errands done and out of the way early, today I dreaded going out. What if I ran into someone? I couldn't face people. Not yet. One look at my face, and they’d guess. I went back upstairs, blew dried my hair and slipped into a light cotton blouse and capris. After one last look in the mirror, to assure myself I hadn't really turned into a monster, I looked around the room — our room — mine and Andrew’s.
This was our sanctuary. We both loved this room. I loved the warm burgundy walls. Andrew had been leery of the color, but once he saw it he liked it too. He had given me a free hand with decorating for the most part - as long as I didn't do anything too frilly. Of course, he insisted on picking out the massive cherry furniture, the sleigh bed and oversized armoire. It fit well in the large room. The only frill I allowed myself was the antique, pink floral rocker. The other chair, another over-sized, over-stuffed one, Andrew wanted. The burgundy and navy plaid chair fit well with the room. Gave it a homey feel. Tears stung my eyes.
Why had I been so foolish?
How could I have crawled into bed after sex with another man? I definitely needed to change the sheets, or more likely burn them. I yanked the sheets off the bed and got new ones from the closet, picked up the navy quilt from the floor, where I had kicked it, and made up the bed. Okay, enough of a delay, it was time to get on with the day.
After a quick cup of coffee, I was off. Hurrying through the grocery store, head down to avoid making eye contact with anyone, I prayed I wouldn't run into anyone, especially a gossipy neighbor. Usually I loved grocery shopping. Loved planning dinners for my family, especially when Andrew came home from one of his trips. I always tried to make something special. But not today.
I threw only a few of the things from my list into the cart and cut my shopping trip short. This was too much to handle. I had to get out of here. I could barely breathe. The risk of running into a neighbor or someone from the club was just too great. Besides, my head still ached something fierce. Served me right, but no way could I finish shopping.
Relieved not to have bumped into anyone, I paid for the groceries, hurried to my car, and pressed the remote to release the trunk. While unloading the grocery cart, a sense of dread came over me. Someone stood behind me.
Oh crap, why now?
Without looking, I knew it was Paul. I didn't want to face him, not today, not ever again. How to explain to him this was a one-time thing, that there was nothing between us? I couldn't bring myself to look at him.
“Hey, Babe, how are you today?”
Just the sound of his voice sent chills up my spine, and not the ones I experienced yesterday. Today, nothing about him excited me. Today, the thought of him repulsed me.
Heat burned my face, and I knew color crept into my cheeks. A wave of nausea formed a lump in my throat, making it difficult to speak. Without looking up, I put my groceries into the trunk and slammed it closed. I swallowed hard and cleared my throat.
“Hey, why the cold shoulder? What’d I do?” Paul grabbed my arm.
I cringed at the sound of his voice, pulled away, got into the car, and rolled down the window - just enough for him to hear me. Staring straight ahead, unable to look at him, barely able to even talk to him, I took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. Something told me this wasn't going to be easy.
“Paul, about last night... It was a mistake. It’s not going to happen again.” I started the car and forced myself to look at him. “I’m sorry...” I just wanted this over and done with. Wanted to be rid of him.
“What do you mean a mistake?” Paul’s smile turned into a scowl. “You’re sorry...?” His raised his voice and clenched his fist.
This wasn't going well. “Look, Paul, it never should have happened. I lost control...” Think, darn it. There had to be something I could say to let him down easy. Some way to soften this.
“Paul, listen... You’re an attractive guy, but I’m married, please try to understand.” This was hopeless. The arrogant look on his face told me I wasn't getting through to him. Something told me he wasn't used to rejection, that he was the one who usually called it quits. Well, there’s a first time for everything. Looked like he found his first.
“Hey, come on, Meg. You can’t mean that.”
What had I seen in him? Right now he looked like a spoiled kid whose mother told him to get out of the cookie jar. He looked like he was going to throw a tantrum, and I wasn't about to stick around and watch.
I started the car, put it in gear, and drove off, leaving him to stare after me.
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