The breaking glass and muffled whispers in the kitchen woke me from a sound sleep. Instinctively, I reached my hand out to quiet Janice, only to find the sheets cold. I couldn’t stop the panic from forming, and forced myself to breathe. Calm down Dale. It’s okay. Janice is at work. Right. Janice is working, Rach is out with friends, and Sami’s at a sleepover. I breathed easier. It was probably Rachel coming home from a night out. One of these days I’d remember she was an adult without a curfew, and that it was okay for my 22-year-old child to go and drink. I wasn’t there yet.
Convinced it was Rachel, I threw on my robe and house shoes. I walked down the hall mentally preparing my reprimand, and it occurred to me that, if this wasn’t Rachel, I was in serious trouble. What did Samantha call it? Too stupid to live? I swallowed the laugh that threatened to burst out and expose my presence.
Shaking the thought from my head, I stopped at the edge of the kitchen. It was thick and black, and I had no idea where the glass was. The only thing I had going for me to the element of surprise, and I flipped on the light next to me. Well, that was a surprise. Rachel wasn’t standing there. My wife was.
I had no earthly idea who the man standing next to her was, but he looked both sheepish and angry. As for Janice, well, I’d never actually seen a deer in the headlights, but I’m fairly confident her face mirrored one.
My confusion overrode any other emotion. “Janice, honey, what’s going on?” I took two steps toward her, resting my hand on the kitchen island. The guy, whoever he was, moved to stand in front of Janice as though to protect her. As though I was a threat. I tightened my grip on the cold granite top and looked around him to my wife.
“Janice, do you want to tell me what’s going on here?”
She sighed, that weary, burdened sigh someone gives when they don’t want to answer but know there’s no choice. Yeah, that. “Dale, I really didn’t want to do this this way.”
“What way? The way where I wake up in the morning and my wife is gone, and I have no idea what just happened?”
She reached out and touched the guy’s shoulder, and he moved to the side. Who in the hell was this guy? Janice came to stand in front of me. “Dale, I’m leaving.”
No shit Sherlock. “I think I picked up on that.” I was having a hard time keeping the sarcasm out of my voice. “I guess my question is, why?”
She wouldn’t look at me. After twenty-two years together, she couldn’t look me in the eye. I didn’t know whether I was angry or frustrated or just sad. The man behind her stepped up and squeezed her shoulders.
“Janice, it’s time to go,” he said.
Angry. Definitely angry, and he was a perfect target. “Who the fuck are you? And what right do you have to tell my wife to do any damn thing?”
The guy stepped up to me, right into my space. I wondered if the “defend your home” laws applied because, if so, I’d love to use them right now. His face contorted into a sneer as he spoke. “I’m Mike,” he said. “And I’m the guy who’s been banging your wife for the past six months.”
His words transformed into something unrecognizable, and I was unable to respond. Instead I looked around, noticing what I’d missed before. The packed bags sitting on the couch. Empty spaces on the mantle where family pictures had been. Small trinkets, items that I knew had sentimental value to Janice, gone. I closed my eyes and inhaled, the spicy mix of Janice’s fragrance wafting over me. Hmm, that’s a newer scent. She’s only been wearing it for … oh shit. “Six months, Janice?”
She turned to me. “Dale, you have to understand…” she began, her voice trailing off as she caught what was surely a thunderous expression on my face.
“I don’t have to understand anything. Are you or are you not sleeping with this guy?”
She stepped back, surprised by my venom. “Yes.” Her eyes pricked with tears.
“Why are you crying, honey? Were you crying while you were screwing him?”
I should’ve been prepared for the slap. Objectively, that was uncalled for, but I think I could be forgiven for it.
“Fuck you Dale,” she yelled. “I’ve been miserable for twenty-two fucking years. We were dating, and it was just supposed to be a damn fling. And then your brother died, and you were all ‘woe is me’ about it.” The air quotes lent great effect, but she was too swept up in her passion to notice. “And then you were so damn needy asked me to marry you, and I felt sorry for your pathetic ass and said yes.” She moved away from me to grab the broom and start sweeping the broken glass. The silence settled in my gut, and I was sure I’d be sick. Satisfied that there was no remaining glass, she turned to me. “I have tried and tried and tried to make this work. But you’re so busy trying to be Superman, trying to be the perfect son, husband, and professor, that I just couldn’t handle it anymore. I want a life. I want to enjoy myself. I wanted to stop being Mrs. Prim and Proper to your Mr. Perfect with our perfectly imperfect kids. So I did.” She smiled at Mike, then walked up to me and gently patted my cheek. I knew I was going to hate what she said next.
“Mike wasn’t the first sweetie.”
“But I damn sure will be the last,” Mike muttered behind her.
She turned her head and smiled at him, …