He was forty and growing restless in his marriage. She was twenty-eight. Beautiful and vibrant in a way that only those who live life fully can be. They met completely by accident. This may be difficult for some to even imagine in our current world of online profiles, emails and texting, but at one time people used to bump into each other in public and strike up random, friendly conversations with one another.
She dropped a package on the street while trying to open the door to the book store with her elbow. He picked up her package and got the door for her. Neither were there for the books as it turned out, but rather for the coffee shop in the rear as a respite from the crowds of holiday shoppers. They chatted as they stood in line waiting to order. As it turned out, once they got their drinks there was only one table left available and they sat down and shared a warm beverage together.
He did not lie or act coy about the fact of his wife and children. In fact, he spoke of them lovingly and with pride. Oddly, this made him more attractive to her. She knew it was wrong to feel the tug of emotion while they spoke. She forced herself not to reach across the table and touch his hand as she so wanted to do.
He knew it was wrong to ask her to join him for dinner. He rationalized it in his mind that it was only a meal. She rationalized it the same way when she smiled and said “yes”. This is how it began. Neither one wanting to investigate their behavior more fully. To do so would surely have meant they would have walked away from each other and remained strangers.
He thought, at first, that he could compartmentalize his life. That she would simply be a bit of enjoyment that he carved out for himself. She would not impact the rest of his life. But, as it turned out, she was not a woman who could be kept in a box. She was too full of life and his need to speak with her and be with her would not contain itself to a few hours a week.
She had a very full life before she met him. With him in her life her schedule began to overflow. If you had asked her prior to meeting him if she would ever consider seeing a married man she would have been insulted and answered a resounding “of course NOT”. Now here she was, making up last minute excuses why she couldn’t make her usual volunteer night at the hospital or meet her best friend for drinks or dinner so she could accommodate him when he could get away.
She told no one. Not her sister, her best friend, not even her hairdresser. The volunteer organizations thought her work responsibilities had increased, her friends thought she was volunteering more and should take more time for herself, her staff was grateful that she seemed to be finding a better balance between work and the rest of her life. Only she was aware of the reality of her situation.
He was amazed at how well his business continued to run without his complete focus on it twenty-four seven. Perhaps he could have gotten away in prior years to take his family on those vacations he had assured them were impossible? His wife was beginning to pressure him to spend more time at home and he began to slowly realize that there was no way this could not affect his marriage and his family.
After almost a year of seeing each other they had finally admitted to themselves and each other that this was about more than the convenience of lust. They had strong and caring feelings for each other. Feelings that came with as much pain as joy. As he began to realize the effect the affair was having on his family, she began to realize she did not want to celebrate another Christmas in a hotel room a week after ringing in the New Year alone.
This is why tonight, almost a year since their first meeting, she found herself sitting alone in the coffee shop where they first met waiting to see if he would join her. If he showed up, this meant he had told his wife about her and had chosen a new life with her. If not, the crazy, titillating roller coaster ride of the last year had reached its end.
She did not know which life he would choose. She was well aware of the schism the affair had caused in his emotions and his life. She also believed his love for his wife was still very real. Part of her hoped that he would choose to remain with his family thereby proving to be the man she thought he was on the day they met. No part of her wanted to be the person that caused upheaval and pain for others. The other part of her, the selfish part, the part that found such happiness in his presence, was holding her breath and hoping to catch sight of him walking down the aisle of books toward their table.
As she sat and waited she realized that no matter what his decision her life would be irrevocably changed after tonight.