When they first moved in, Kate held him tight and kept kissing his cheek as he carried her across the threshold. She was sweet and full of laughter. They beat the moving van to the house. So they ran up the stairs to their new bedroom for a quickie. He could still remember the smell of lavender in her hair as he pressed her against the wall. Their moans filled the empty house. The movers rang the doorbell just as they were pulling up their jeans. She was glowing.
Yesterday there were two moving vans. Kate took her half in the morning. Kevin’s crew took the rest in the afternoon. Their jeans never ended up around their ankles. She didn’t laugh or glow. She was all business and no kisses.
Today they would clean and check all the nooks and crannies for anything left behind. Tomorrow the sale would be finalized and a happy couple would take their turn at playing house here.
Kevin still hoped she’d change her mind. Their divorce hearing was in two months. Kate was stubborn. She moved fast when she made up her mind. It was just three months ago that she accused him of having an affair and two weeks after that, she served him with divorce papers.
He was looking out the big bay window at the dogwood tree he planted when he saw her pull up. He always held his breath when he watched her park. Why did she always park so close behind him? She got out of her car. Her long black hair was tied back. She was wearing an old black v-neck t-shirt, torn jeans, and her checkered Keds.
Kevin watched her breasts jiggling as she approached the house. He felt himself getting hard looking at her. Kate always did it for him. He felt anxious. He wanted the impossible — a do-over.
He thought about living day after day in his new apartment. He shouldn’t have rented the first place he saw. But it didn’t seem real. Kevin thought it would be a temporary thing until Kate came to her senses. Then he thought about the bottle of Jameson he left on his nightstand. Was it half full or half empty? He realized it wouldn’t hurt to pick up another bottle. As she got closer, he knew he’d be needing it.
“Hey.” Kate had walked in while his mind was still on his whiskey inventory.
“Morning,” Kevin said as he put his hands in his pocket to keep his desire for hidden.
“So, what do we have to do? The realtor said something about leaving it ‘broom clean’. Do you know what that means?”
“Clean but not spotless. None of these muddy footprints, or those scuffs.” Kevin pointed to a few black marks on the walls which Kate had always said was the perfect shade of yellow, especially when the afternoon sun entered the room.
“Did you do any double-checking yesterday after your van was loaded?”
“No, there wasn’t time. Do you want upstairs or downstairs?”
“I’ll take downstairs.”
Kevin grabbed a bucket and mop and headed up the stairs to the second floor. His steps echoed through the empty house. Whiskey was still coursing through his veins. Then he saw it, their big empty bedroom. The oak floor was scratched where the bed had been. There were muddy footprints all over. The room appeared out of focus until he pulled up the neck collar of his t-shirt to wipe his eyes. He swallowed the lump in his throat, put down the mop, and headed to the bathroom to fill the bucket.
He was washing the bedroom floor when he felt his phone vibrating. What was it now? He saw there was a weather alert. A summer storm. Pictures of Kate in that room flooded his mind. There were five years of memories that couldn’t be washed away. He put some music on his phone and put it in his shirt pocket.
He thought about the breakdown of their marriage every day but still didn’t understand what happened. At first, she began avoiding him. She stayed out late. Pushed him away when he spooned her in bed. For the first time in their marriage, she didn’t want to have sex with him. Then one Saturday morning she calmly accused him of having an affair. She said there was no point in denying it. What could he do? If he said yes, she’d never give him a chance to explain. If he said no, she wouldn’t believe him. He denied having an affair. In his mind, it was pretty much the truth.
She never gave him a chance after that. A few weeks after she accused him of cheating, he was served with divorce papers at his office. The papers were shaking in his hands as he tried to reach her. She wouldn’t answer his texts or his calls. When he returned home, he found she had moved into the guest room. One day there was a listing agreement to sell the house left for him to sign on the kitchen counter. He felt like he was in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
Kevin couldn’t find the courage to tell her the truth. He was a coward. He hated himself. Depressed and unable to fight for his marriage, he agreed to sell their home and signed the listing agreement. It seemed to be the only thing he could do to make her happy.
He thought about starting over. He was only thirty-seven, it wouldn’t be hard to find someone new. Kevin knew he was the kind of guy who needed a woman who would give him endless chances. But he didn’t want that kind of woman. He wanted Kate.
Kevin and his mop were traveling from room to room. The music helped. He even made himself laugh thinking about mops and buckets dancing together like in some old Disney movie. The more he mopped, the more he thought about talking to her. He would tell her. She would have to listen.
When he finished cleaning upstairs, he went down to check on Kate’s progress. She was standing at the kitchen sink looking out the window. She had earphones on. He could hear the music. She didn’t hear him call her name. He tapped her on her shoulder. She jumped. When she turned to face him, her blue eyes had traces of red. They always seemed to turn purple when she cried.
“Are you okay?” She took her earphones out and he repeated himself. He leaned in to kiss her and hold her, but she pulled back.
“Yes. I’m okay. I’m going to miss this house. I put a lot into it.” Kate’s voice was soft and weak.
“I won’t miss the house as much as I’ll miss you.” She turned to him and looked him square in the eyes. This time, he returned her gaze. He tried to get closer, but she pulled back again.
“You did this to us.” Kevin saw the tears in her eyes and hated himself. He wanted to be tender, but he got angry instead.
“I did? I was the one who wanted to go to marriage counseling. You refused to give it a try.” His own tears began surfacing and that familiar pain in his chest returned as raised his voice. “You refused to listen to me.”
“You refused to admit you had an affair. You continued to lie to me. Why would I listen to you?”
“I didn’t. I didn’t have an affair. Not exactly. I, um, I did have a one night stand. Katie, please, I want to explain. Can we sit down on the back step?” He reached out to take her hand, but she continued to maintain her distance.
“I don’t want to sit down with you. It’s too late. We’re standing in an empty house and now of all times, you’re ready to tell the truth. Or as much of the truth as you can manage. Just say what you have to say, Kevin.” She crossed her arms and gave him that angry look that was killing him. Maybe it was the whiskey that was still in his system, he was able to find a little courage.
“Katie, do you remember when you had a two-week business trip and then I had a trip right after yours? That was back in March before — .”
“When I was one week into my trip, it had been three weeks since I last saw you. You know, that was the longest — I missed you so much. I was sitting at the hotel bar, thinking about you non-stop. I thought about all the different expressions you had when we made love. Then I looked up. I thought I saw you. I thought you had come to surprise me.”
“That was when you were in Denver?”
“Yes. So, I kept staring at this woman I thought was you, waiting for you, I mean her, to see me. I guess she read that as a signal. She came over and introduced herself. She looked like you. She was older though, 5 or 10 years older and not so tall or as slender as you.”
“What was her name?”
“Um, Jenny. Her name was Jenny. I was drunk, falling off my bar stool drunk. I kept looking at her and thinking you’d look like her when you got older but better. We chatted a little. She said she was alone. She had been stuck at a boring convention all week and wanted to have some fun. I don’t know what we talked about exactly. I know I told her she looked like my wife.”
Kevin saw she was listening to him but looking at him with her eyes a little squinted. He wished he was getting anything but that skeptical look.
“I remember her putting her hand on my thigh. She whispered she wished she could be my wife for a night. And, I don’t know Katie, I just pretended she was you. I was lonely. I missed you. I was drunk. It was all a blur.”
“You expect me to believe this?”
“It’s true. Kate. I swear it. I felt terrible about it. When I woke up the next morning she was gone. I felt like I dreamed the whole thing. Then I remembered everything and hated myself. I heard from her once after that. I guess I gave her my number at some point, I think I must have because she sent me a text. But I never replied to it.”
“She sent you a text a week after you got back from that trip.”
“Yes, I think -”
“She wrote, I’ll be your wife as soon as you’re ready.”
“You saw that?”
“Yes. Your phone was on vibrate and about to fall off the counter from all the messages you were getting. Her text came in just as I picked it up.”
“Oh my god Katie, why didn’t you tell me?”
“That was the day I had the big training session. I couldn’t cancel. I couldn’t get upset. There was no one who could take my place. Not at the last minute. There was nothing I could do. I swallowed my feelings and went through with the program.”
“Oh, Katie. I’m sorry. No wonder you hated me. The text — she was just joking. I wasn’t going to get together with her again.”
“After the training session, I wanted to know more. I had her number from the text. I looked her up.”
“You looked her up?”
“Yes. The phone number went to her LinkedIn Profile. She didn’t look like me.”
“She did, I swear to God Katie.”
“Kevin, why couldn’t you have told me the truth?” Her face was getting red, he could see she was angry even though she remained calm.
“I couldn’t. I felt so guilty. You didn’t trust me or anything I said. You cut me off — and now, I understand. It must have been horrible to see that text. I am so sorry Katie. I am so sorry. I would take it all back if I could. She meant nothing to me. She was no one. She was you that night.”
“I am no one to you if I can be exchanged so easily. How many times were you with her? How many other women took my place when you were on one of your trips?”
“There was no one else. It was just that one time Katie, I swear it.”
“Kevin, I’m finished here. Is there anything else we need to do?”
“I finished upstairs. Katie, please forgive me. Please — ”
“You took all this time to tell me this story.”
“Katie, my love, please — ”
“All that time, I might have thought you had some woman waiting for you to leave me and marry her. Even if your story is true, and I know it’s not, it’s just too late. We’ll never get back to where we were.”
“Katie, we can, we can try. I’m telling you the truth. Please. It’s the truth. I made a mistake. But you’re the only one for me. Let’s put off the divorce. Come on darlin’, give me another chance. Give us another chance.”
“I can’t be your wife any longer. I deserve much better than you.”
“Please, just think about it. I love you so much.”
“I’m done thinking about it, Kevin.” As she started to leave, he tried to grab her hand to pull her back. She slapped it. He felt the sting of her rejection.
“Katie — please, don’t leave like this.” Tears were rolling down his face. “We can’t part like this, not after all these years. Give me a hug at least.” She relented but her body was stiff in his arms. He lay his head on her shoulder and tried to hold back his tears as she pulled away again. She walked away without looking back.
Kevin thought about what she said. He couldn’t believe she saw the text and didn’t confront him. He watched her go wanting to say something, anything. He couldn’t find any words. Not even “stop.” Then he heard her shout out, “That day I saw your text, I called Jenny. I know the whole truth you lying son of a bitch.”
He wanted to run after her and explain why he lied. He wanted to catch her before she drove away. He didn’t see the mop and bucket. Her words, “I spoke with Jenny that day,” were still reverberating in his mind as his body hit the floor. He felt a sharp pain in the center of his face. His moans echoed in the empty house. He couldn’t breathe. He felt a warm stream of liquid running down his face. He could taste his salty blood. Rain started pounding on the metal gutters. He rolled onto his back next to the mop and the bucket certain his nose was as broken as everything else.
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