He was exhausted. Sleep eluded him since that night. He tried not to relive it, but his conscience wouldn’t shut up.
“Bill, can I get you some tea?” Renee asked sleepily in the darkened bedroom.
“I’m fine, honey, thank you. You go back to sleep,” he told her in a gentle voice. How could he have done this to her? Such a loving, sweet wife. He sat on the bay window seat and watched the passage of the moon across the sky. Each time the vision of his betrayal came to him, he winced and forced his attention to the heavens again. Eventually, he sagged against the window, leaving an ear print on the glass as he slept.
Waking with a start, he groaned at a spasm in his back. It took a moment, but he remembered why he wasn’t in bed. He put his face in his hands. Only then did he realize he had a blanket covering him. Renee must have draped it over him while he slept. Further proof he was an ass. He looked over at her in the half-light of dawn. She slept with one arm stretched over his side of the bed as though reaching for him. He worked to swallow the lump in his throat.
He needed to get out, to leave the house before Renee was awake. Propelled by this one thought, Bill took a quick shower and dressed in the guest bath, not taking a chance on waking her. Peeking into their bedroom, he noted she now clutched his pillow in her sleep. He berated himself for his unthinking and selfish behavior the entire way to his office.
For once, his detested supervisor’s shrill voice and over-emotional ways didn’t make a dent in his concentration. No, that was already shot by his attempts to avoid picturing the scene of his offense, not to mention the horrible accusations he hurled at himself in his mind. Selfish pig! Was it worth it? No good way out of this. You did it, you hurt your lovely Renee. Be a man, admit your wayward behavior! No, you can’t face her, can you? Miserable dog, slinking out this morning.
Bill dashed furtive looks at the clock, ignoring his boss’s latest tantrum. The closer it got to 5:00, the more his stomach squirmed. The louder the vicious voice in his head became. He accomplished precious little that day. He barely read the reports he reviewed. Being a bureaucrat had its benefits. At least they would go through a few more levels before reaching committee. He sat at his desk, slumped and exhausted. The twinge in his back became a full on spasm during the day. Normally, he would ask Renee to use her magic hands on it. He bit back a curse at the thought.
This is ridiculous, he thought. Fatigue and pain combined to make him short-tempered with himself. Pushing through the fog of self-recrimination, he berated himself from a different angle. Be a man, he told himself. Do something about this and get past it! Renee will surely be hurt by it all, but for goodness sake, face it like a man.
With decisive thoughts echoing in his head, he drew on his overcoat and left the office. There were little detours to pick up a few things on the way home, such as a dozen roses. When he slipped and his thoughts turned to self-pity, he growled aloud, “Be a man, for heaven’s sake!” It seemed to help.
Of course, he spent so much time on keeping his mental self-talk in line, he didn’t give much thought to exactly what he’d say to Renee. This thought hit him suddenly as he pulled into the drive. He nearly backed out again, but he saw Renee peek out the window. He was trapped. Think quick, buddy. Deep breath and get going.
He took his advice and grabbed the large paper sack and the roses. Renee met him at the door and nearly squealed with pleasure at the bouquet. “Flowers! Bill, whatever inspired you to bring roses home? Such an extravagance in January. You’re a sweetheart for thinking of it.” She wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted onto her toes to kiss him. She tasted soft and sweet, that heady combination which was all Renee. His Renee. She loved him and he was about to hurt her.
“Honey, I brought some wine for after dinner.” He tensed. “I brought something else, too.” Don’t lose your nerve, Bill. Now’s the time.
“Renee, I did a horrible thing. Your birthday cheesecake. I ate the last two slices the other night. It was thoughtless and I couldn’t be sorrier.” He drew the large, pink box from the sack. “I picked up another cheesecake on the way home. Please, can you forgive me?”
Renee stood before him, looking up into his eyes. Her pretty face was a blank mask. Once again, his belly flopped. “I can’t figure you out, Bill. All this because of cheesecake? Of course I forgive you for it.” Bill felt his world calm, soothed by her sweet acceptance.
Renee took the bag from him and turned toward the kitchen. Over her shoulder, she called out, “As for your affair with your boss, though, you can forget it.”
© 2010 Jessica Rosen
The first lines are an expanded #storystarters I wrote not too long ago.