The International Writers Magazine: The Straying Kind
“You were his friend, Tim. Who’s the other woman?”
As Tim Holcomb had expected, the split up of Nick and Sue Etten was the main topic of conversation at the Windsors’ barbecue in their Sacramento suburb.
Sue had thrown out her husband after a loud argument that could be heard several houses away. Tim had noticed the past tense used in the question. As far as he knew, Nick was still his friend, although he hadn’t seen him since the eviction. Nick was 40 years old, two years older than Tim, and he and Sue had two kids, same as he and Amy, although one was a girl.
“I have no idea,” said Tim
“Are you sure?”
“He never mentioned anyone.”
About all anyone knew was that “the other woman” was young, much younger of course than Sue. Speculation was that she was a secretary in Nick’s architectural office, a waitress in the restaurant where he always had lunch or possibly one of his kids’ teachers. He’d tried to explain to Sue why he felt he needed a younger woman at this stage of his life and she’d understandably blown up and demanded he leave.
“Guess you’ll be needing another tennis partner,” someone said.
Nick had been Tim’s doubles partner at their neighborhood swim and tennis club and they’d won a number of tournaments. Nick was a big guy, over six feet, with broad shoulders, whose aggressive net play perfectly complemented Tim’s steady baseline hitting.
“I guess so"
“So you haven’t heard from him?” someone else said.
“Not a word.”
“He’s crazy to have ditched Sue,” said one of the husbands.
“She’s so attractive,” said one of the wives.
Silently, Tim agreed. He’d always thought Sue was one of the most attractive of the wives in their group, and one of the nicest. He’d occasionally thought of her in a less than strictly neighborly way himself. Of course he would never have acted on these thoughts.
“I hope she takes him for all he’s got,” said another wife.
“He deserves it.”
None of the husbands said anything.
Tim and Amy were getting ready for bed. The baby-sitter had left, the kids were asleep, the house was quiet. “How are you feeling?” Tim asked. It was code for asking Amy if she felt like doing something more than just going to sleep.
“Pretty tired,” Amy said. “Maybe tomorrow night. I wonder what Nick was thinking. Leaving his wife and children, his family. Just for a fling with some young slut.”
“Maybe it’s not just a fling, and maybe she’s not a slut.”
“Huh! Anyone who’d take a man away from his family is a slut.”
Tim knew that was the last word on that subject.
“Not a bad place,” Tim said.
They were in Nick’s apartment. It was six months later and the divorce was proceeding. Contrary to the wishes of the neighborhood wives, Sue, who was really nice, had calmed down and the divorce would be an amicable one. Sue would of course have custody of the kids and she’d get the house. Nick would pay child support and see the kids on weekends and over the summer vacation.
Nick’s one-bedroom apartment was in a new building close to downtown Sacramento; less than 15 minutes away from his office, Nick had told him. It was nicely furnished, a sofa and two comfortable chairs in the living room, plus a coffee table, a couple of lamp tables, bookshelves and a large TV set mounted on one of the walls. Tim and Nick were seated in the two comfortable chairs, drinking beers. “So it didn’t work out?” said Tim.
The “other woman,” as it turned out, was a secretary, not one in Nick’s office but in the law office across the way. “She was too young, didn’t know any of the movie or TV stars I told her about. She’s not stupid but I don’t think she knows who the President is, well, not the Vice President or Secretary of State. Doesn’t care. Of course, the sex was great.”
“Was it worth it? I mean, leaving Sue and the kids?”
Nick took a sip of his beer and appeared to be considering. “I don’t know. Everyone thinks I’m crazy, right? But think of our life: commuting to an office every day, taking the kids to their games on weekends, mowing the lawn, fixing whatever was broken in the house, and going to those Goddamn barbecues. I thought I was half-dead most of the time.”
“Sounds as if you had a mid-life crisis.”
“Sure, I guess I had. But to have a young pretty girl interested in you. It was exciting. Even having to hide it from Sue; the secrecy was part of the excitement. Haven’t you ever wanted to do anything that was bad? No, you probably haven’t. You apply your analytic mind to everything, figure out the cost/benefit ratio. An affair versus losing your wife and kids. No, you’d never do it.”
Tim was a little shocked. In fact, there was a new pretty young analyst in his section and he’d thought about her, but decided that no, it would certainly turn out to be messy and certainly not worth the risk. How did Nick know? Maybe Nick knew him better than he’d thought.
“So, do you think you’ll get back with Sue?”
“No, that part of my life is over. I’ll never go back to the suburbs. Who knows, maybe I’ll eventually move to San Francisco. I don’t want to go back to being half dead again.”
Tim had gone to see Nick after work. He turned down another beer and was driving home. Nick probably thought Tim was leading a half-dead life. Was he? The girl in his office was out of the question. Like Nick’s secretary, too young, for one thing. But he’d always thought Sue was attractive, and nice. If Nick wasn’t going to get back with her, then who knows what might happen.
© Martin Green
We were at a bar, watching a 49er game. “We” were a gang of young guys I’d fallen in with because I knew one of them, Gil Wexler, from the Army. The 49ers scored a touchdown. Everyone cheered and one of the guys, Hugh Ballard, threw up his arms, then picked up my drink and finished it off. “Hey,” I said, “that was my drink.”
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