“Oh, I’ll be right back, sweetheart, I need to take this call,” Charlie said, bracing his hand on Leah’s knee as he got up. He didn’t press the ‘send’ key until he had reached the back porch and closed the sliding glass door behind him. He hadn’t even waited for her to say anything.
He never missed seeing The Big Bang Theory. Ever. No matter how many times episodes were run, Charlie watched them and sometimes spoke the lines along with the characters. But lately he had been missing more and more of them for mystery calls like the one he just took. Leah had been suspicious of him for several months, but in the past two weeks, Charlie was over-doing the secretive thing. And it wasn’t because her birthday or their anniversary was coming up and he was trying to hide what kind of present he was getting her. He had worked to keep presents from her, but nothing special was coming up anytime soon. He used to drop by the shop she owned every single day to take her something special for lunch and spend an hour with her during the day, but for the past few weeks he had been coming in less and less often. She knew his work wasn’t getting too busy for him to be coming in, either. He was a car salesman, working at the Dodge dealership close to her shop, but he always made sure he came in around lunchtime whenever he was done with the customer he happened to be working with.
Leah had come to the conclusion that Charlie was cheating on her. Without turning on any extra lights, she walked to the kitchen where she had left the window open to air out the room, keeping it from smelling like the salmon she had prepared for dinner. She heard Charlie’s voice right outside the window, so he must have been leaning against the house as he talked to whoever was on the phone. She knew that she shouldn’t be eavesdropping, but she couldn’t help herself from trying to find out if her suspicions were correct.
“Oh, I’m just sitting here with my wife watching The Big Bang Theory. What? I know, but at least I do spend time with you when I can, you know that. I know, I can’t wait to see you again either. You know what I realized the other day? We’re almost hitting a relationship mile marker soon. Yes, I’m excited about it. I have something special planned. I don’t know what I’m going to tell her yet. Don’t worry though, I’ll tell her something and you and I will have a special evening, you have my word. Okay? Don’t you trust me? Yes, we’ll have plenty of time for that. Take a nice bath together or something to start off with, how’s that? I’ll stop by and get us some wine to enjoy, too. Yeah, I think I like getting you drunk…” Charlie paused in between sentences, letting the other person talk.
Leah couldn’t listen to any more. She walked back to the couch, sat down, and blankly stared at the television. After a minute of staring, she decided she’d like to go and take a hot shower instead. It hadn’t sounded like Charlie was going to be done with his conversation in the next few minutes, so she started taking off clothes on her way to the master bathroom, dropping them on the floor when she felt cool tile under her toes. For the first time since she married Charlie nine years ago, she closed and locked the bathroom door as she finished undressing and turned on the water. The bathroom was completely lined with tile, so she knew the sound of the water falling from the showerhead would overpower any sounds she made if she started crying. Which she did.
Her body shook with sobs, and she braced her hands on the wall the showerhead protruded from, letting the hot water fall on her. Her long blonde hair had fallen over her shoulders and was now plastered to her breasts, covering her nipples. She had the fleeting thought that her hair was long enough and thick enough to keep her breasts from swaying obscenely as she cried. That thought led to memories of Charlie in this very shower with her, his hands where her hair was now, pulling her body tight against him. She wondered what his mistress looked like, and if his hands cupped her breasts as gently as they did hers. She wondered if the mistress’s head met Charlie’s chest at the perfect height like hers did, if he stared into her eyes with as much love as he had stared into hers. She knew it was even worse for her to be thinking those thoughts than listening to that conversation, but she honestly couldn’t help wondering where she had failed her husband for him to find someone else to satisfy whatever need she couldn’t.
She cried harder, until her legs became weak and she sat on the floor of the full-size bathtub, her head right under the hot spray, droplets of water that fell from the showerhead disguising the drops of water that fell from her eyes. She knew she couldn’t hold back all the noise she made crying, but what noise she couldn’t hold back, the echo of the running water would cover. So she let out all the hurt that had filled her heart through all of her suspicion.
Then she heard a knock on the bathroom door. Charlie’s voice filtered through the door, “Honey? Are you okay in there? You never lock the door when you take a shower.”
“I’m fine, Charlie, just needed some me time.” Leah knew that excuse would work.
“Okay, sweetie. I was just going to come in to use the restroom, though.”
“You can’t use the bathroom in the hall?”
“I meant I wanted to take a shower, too.”
“I’m using the shower right now, I’m almost finished.”
Charlie paused. “Oh. Okay, honey. Just let me know when you’re finished. I’ll be in the living room.”
Leah waited until enough time passed that would allow him to get to the couch and get comfortable, and then she shampooed and conditioned her hair, shaved her legs, arms, and for the first time in several weeks, the area between her legs that made her entirely female. She couldn’t resist giving herself a little extra pampering, making herself as beautiful as she knew how. She would get Charlie all worked up, and then tell him that she was going out with her best friend Marlene.
She would call Marlene on the way, of course, asking for permission to go to the house and have a glass of wine and maybe watch a chick flick. But she would make Charlie miss her. And then she would leave him hot and hard and ready for her and then just… walk away. She could do that. He deserved balls the color of a Smurf. Of course, if she went out and left him hard, he would likely call his girlfriend over and make love to her in their marital bed.
Maybe she should just get all prettied up and then go to bed. Let him wonder why she’s so smooth and moisturized and sexy. That sounded like a better plan.
“Okay Charlie, I’m done,” she called to him when she was finished.
“I’ll be there in a sec, sugar, the show’s almost done,” he called back.
Before that phone call, Leah would simply have gone about her business and left him alone. Now, however, she wanted to know what was really going on.
She approached the living room and stopped just before the corner, angling her head so she could see his reflection in the glass front of the kitchen cabinets. The Conan O’Brian show was on, The Big Bang Theory had ended. Charlie hated Conan. So she peeked her head around the corner just enough so she could see, and she didn’t have to worry about him seeing her. His eyes were closed, his pants were low around his thighs, his shirt was up around his chest, and he was pleasuring himself with one hand and holding his cell phone up to his ear with the other hand. He wasn’t saying anything, but Leah was guessing that the other party was happy with doing all the talking without getting anything in return. She wasn’t sure how long he had been working at it, but she didn’t want to see him climax listening to someone else’s voice.
She went back to the bedroom and got into bed, hoping to fall asleep quickly so she didn’t have to see him walk in trying to cover up the mess he made on the way to the bathroom. The mundane noises in the house and coming from outside faded in and out, and she was grateful to fall asleep quickly.
The next morning, she woke up with her alarm and found that Charlie was already gone. Sometimes he did leave before she woke up, so that wasn’t any cause for alarm. He had done that since they were married. She finished her morning routine and left for the shop, hoping today was one of the days that he didn’t take her lunch.
Customers came in and out steadily throughout the day, purchasing small gifts for their loved ones. Most of them were repeat customers, and she knew they didn’t need her help. One customer, however, she had never seen before. As he walked in, he looked a bit lost, so she asked if he needed help.
“Uh, yes, ma’am, I’m looking for something special for my boyfriend?”
He didn’t throw off any “normal” signs of being gay, and the statement took her back for a moment. “Of course, sir, do you have an idea of what you’re looking for?”
“Well, I see that you have sterling silver jewelry, and I was wondering if you do engraving or if you have personalized jewelry or things like that?”
“Yes sir, I do, and I will engrave anything you like, if you give me about an hour and a half. The most popular things I have that people engrave are in this case over here, let me show you,” Leah said as she led the young man to a glass case.
After looking over what she had, the young man decided to purchase a set of sterling silver dog tags. He pointed them out and looked up at her with a bright smile, as if he knew this was exactly what his lover would want.
“Great choice! What would you like me to engrave on them?” Leah said, unlocking the case and taking out a spare, brand new set of the dog tags.
The young man said simply, “On one, ‘To Charlie’ on one side, ‘Love Ryan’ and on the other one, I’d like ‘One month’ and tomorrow’s date?”
Leah stopped for a moment again, and then convinced herself that he couldn’t be Charlie’s lover. Charlie wasn’t gay… was he? “That sounds wonderful, congratulations on one month together.” It took a lot of effort for her to smile over that, but she did, and she was confident that it looked genuine. She hoped it looked genuine, because she didn’t want this young man to think she disapproved at all. She truly was happy for him and his partner. “I can have that ready in about an hour and a half, or possibly sooner, does that sound good?”
“Oh, yes, ma’am, that sounds great. I’ll be back around that time, then.” He handed her his credit card and paid for the item, walking out with a big smile.
Leah couldn’t help but be happy for the young man, seeing his happiness at buying a gift for such a short-term anniversary. First, she hoped it wasn’t her Charlie, and second, she did hope they were happy together.
She engraved the dog tags just the way he wanted it, with a font that suggested both masculinity and a touch of class. It only took her 45 minutes to finish the engraving, and her other customers were all regulars that she knew didn’t need help, so she took an extra step with the gift and wrapped the box in black wrapping paper and added a deep red ribbon, working hard to make the bow perfect.
The young man came back just as Leah was finishing the ribbon, and she was very pleased to hand him his gift just as he walked back up to the counter. He seemed very pleased with how quickly the engraving was done, and he left her a tip, telling her not to tell anyone.
Leah finished her day without any other big event, and threw herself on the couch as soon as she got home, not bothering to take off her shoes or anything. She quickly fell asleep.
When she woke up, Charlie was leaving the house, evidently after having a nice shower and making himself look very handsome. Leah almost told him to come to her and make love to her, but instead she asked where he was going.
“I’m just going out with the guys, sweetie. I’ll see you in the morning, okay? I love you,” Charlie replied, not even coming to her to say goodbye or even kiss her on the forehead.
Leah almost began crying again, wondering if there was anything she could do to get her husband back. She was still so in love with him, and she was willing to do almost anything to get him back and keep him. All she could do now was make herself dinner and relax for the night, watching a movie to try to keep her mind occupied.
The next morning, Saturday, Leah woke up before Charlie, and when she went into the bathroom to brush her teeth and wash her face, she saw black wrapping paper in the wastebasket. She also saw a red ribbon that Charlie had tried to cover up with what had been in the wastebasket before. There was also a set of dog tags in Charlie’s shaving kit.