That night he had lied, he wasn’t working late. That night he could’ve gone with them but he went to her instead. Maybe he shouldn’t have been surprised, he had been a cheater for as long as he could remember. Whether it be games or cards or taxes he always found the shortcut, the workaround, the edge. Throughout his life he had found convenient euphemisms such as resourceful or clever to avoid identifying as such but as the years passed it became impossible to ignore this one undeniable truth, cheaters cheat.
A melting cherry Popsicle, the enemy of a crisp white shirt, dominated Marco’s attention instead of the little boy who was running towards him holding it. “Dad! Your hug! You forgot your hug.” His son was right, he hadn’t given him a hug, his focus was elsewhere. Marco was distracted and hadn’t expected his son to be awake. He didn’t specifically plan to rise and leave early enough to forgo the normal morning goodbyes but somewhere, down deep, he didn’t want to see his son or his daughter or his wife. It was the only explanation for forgetting to give his son a hug and for giving him a cherry Popsicle for breakfast. “I’m running late, buddy.” he said in an effort to avoid the red stain on his new shirt. “Can I give you two tonight?” “Sure dad. I love you bigger than the sky!” and with that the boy turned back towards the house and Marco got in the car and shut the door.
Pulling out his phone Marco reread the text he had received in the middle of the night. “He won’t be home tonight. Are you available?” The text was followed by a wink emoji. This was all fun and games to her but to Marco, it was deadly serious. He was a cheat but he had never cheated like this, not on Michelle. He saw the text at 3 am but he didn’t answer, he didn’t have an answer and he didn’t feel any closer to one on the drive into work. Time, however, was of the essence, he would see her almost as soon as he entered the office and she would be stalking. The angel on one shoulder was shouting “No!” but the devil on the other was presenting a mental power point of the racy pictures he had received over the last few weeks and that argument, in the moment, was compelling. As he turned off the car Marco sat lost in thought. Why did it have to be Friday night? Friday night was family night. Sometimes it would be movies, others miniature golf, and still others would be bowling. The kids loved it but, if at all possible, Marco and Michelle loved it even more. If he was going to meet her he would have to lie to his wife and his children. The angel counseled him “You know you can’t do that.” The devil responded with two words “The pictures.”
Marco made his way from the parking lot into the office all the while wrestling with
his decision. Getting out of the car family night was winning, crossing the parking lot seduction took the lead, entering the building it was movies and ice cream with the family, and finally as he passed her office he poked his head in, “Yes, I’m available.” She smiled but didn’t say a word. Marco could tell she was happy. She had gotten what she wanted. It seemed like she always got what she wanted. Now there was only one thing left to do.
“Hey there babe, I’ve got some bad news.” He was concerned at how easily the lie flowed out of his mouth. “This project can’t wait for the weekend and I’m never going to get it done in time for family night. Just this once can you take the kids? I’ll try not to be too late, maybe I can be home early enough to tuck them into bed.”
“No! Not on family night!” Michelle answered feigning anger. “It won’t be the same without you.”
Marco could tell she wasn’t really angry, she was just sad. She wanted him there but she wasn’t angry. It wasn’t in her nature. The thought put a knot in his stomach and for a second he could hardly breathe. He loved Michelle but not like she loved him and in that moment he almost resented her for it. His thoughts were fractured and unreasonable, she loved him too much, that was his justification. She deserved this and he deserved.. He stopped himself before his mind could finish that sentence. He was selling his soul to the devil on his shoulder but even he had limits.
Marco, like most men, had an incredible ability to compartmentalize and the only way this would work was to put Michelle back in her box. His goal was to lose himself in work but the anticipation became overwhelming. He both wanted the day to speed along all the while dreaded times passing. His lack of concentration caused the day to drag and yet before he knew it, it was time to go. She had left a few hours earlier. “I have some errands to run and I want to get ready.”
“Get ready.” Marco said it over and over again under his breath. As a married man, he had almost forgotten what first date anticipation felt like but the whole day became a living reminder. Sweaty palms, lack of concentration, racing heart, and even a little stuttering all reintroduced themselves during the wait and as uncomfortable as these feelings were, he was enjoying the rush.
The trip back to his car was more distracting than the one to the office. There was a feeling that each step was an opportunity to make a choice and yet Marco forced the thought of Michelle from his mind. Multitasking, he pulled out of the parking lot while simultaneously putting the address into his GPS. As he came to a stop at the light where he would usually turn right to head home a mechanical female voice gave him different instructions. “At the light, turn left.” In his mind this was his final chance to change his mind but when the light turned green he turned left. He was taking “The road less traveled and it would make all the difference.”
The trip was less than twenty minutes but the quiet time gave Marco time to think about what he was about to do and with whom he would do it. There was nothing about her that should have caught his eye, she was selfish and unfriendly and as a colleague she was ruthless. Unlike Michelle, who had natural good looks and an inner spark that accentuated her appearance, she was cold and manicured. Her personnel file revealed she was married but she never brought her husband to company events and no pictures of the poor unfortunate soul adorned her desk.
In contrast to her husband, Marco had the perfect wife yet for some unfathomable reason she intrigued him. Being liked had always consumed him and she was the ultimate challenge seeing as she didn’t seem to like anyone. Charming to a fault, he listened to people and looked them in the eye, he was attentive to their stories and remembered the details, he accentuated their strengths and ignored their weaknesses. If anyone could crack her shell it was him and he committed to the task. At first it was finding ways to agree with her, she liked that. Then he started to praise her work, followed by flirting. It was amazing how easily a well timed compliment could melt the Ice Queen’s exterior and before long he was doing so regularly. Next came the emails and texts and non-work related calls. Somewhere along the way he had begun to crave her attention and she was more than willing to give it. Years later he would try to convince himself it was her fault but in his quiet times he knew he’d gone there willingly. The decision was his, as were the ramifications.
Just under an hour, that was all it took. From the moment Marco pulled into her driveway until the moment he climbed back into his car not a full hour had passed but Marco somehow knew this hour might be his life’s most significant. Marco’s mind, which had been distracted by her all day, became laser focused on Michelle. The thought’s he wished he had been thinking early in the day now crashed on him like an unexpected wave.
Striking even in her youth, with dark hair and emerald eyes, Michelle was his high school sweetheart. Even as a freshman she had a flock of boys at her beck and call but she had chosen him. From their first day together everyone knew they were a forever couple. Equals in every way, they followed each other to college and upon graduation set the date, with invitations sent shortly thereafter. Of all the moments in his life the one permanently burned into his memory was the sight of Michelle, on her father’s arm, walking towards him. Every bride is beautiful in their own way but Michelle was magazine beautiful and for a moment he lost his breath.
Inspired by her younger brother, born with Down’s Syndrome, Michelle had purposed to spend her life helping developmentally disabled children as a teacher and mentor. While he spent his days working his way up the corporate ladder she spent hers enriching the lives of the sweetest most thankful children anyone could ever have the pleasure of meeting. At night with the television and lights off she would share sentimental stories that made him grateful for the dark so she couldn’t see the tears in his eyes. There was never a day in their lives where he wasn’t proud of who she was and what she was doing.
The first time she spoke of having children was in high school and the college years had not lessened her desire for a family. An inadvertent smile would spread across his face when his mind would wander to those early conversations. No more than kids themselves, he nonetheless could think of nothing more desirable than being the father of Michelle’s children; playing catch with his son and telling embarrassing stories about Michelle to his little girl. Reality seldom lives up to the standards dreams set, but for them, their children were the exception. Three months after their first anniversary Michelle gave birth to a baby boy followed by a sister, the apple of her father’s eye, just under two years later. Michelle found herself happily overwhelmed by the joys of motherhood, even the sleepless nights and long days held silent reward. A collection of sporting goods to share with his young son soon filled the garage and Marco constantly doted on daddy’s little girl. In every conceivable way their lives were perfect except that cheaters cheat, even perfect ones.
It would only happen once but once was enough to change a life. For as long as he could remember he had been a cheater and now he had cheated on Michelle, he had cheated on his children, how could anything ever be the same? There were no answers, all solutions were bad. Alone in his car he wanted to talk to Michelle but he couldn’t face her. He had to tell her, beg for forgiveness, accept the consequences no matter what. He reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone at the exact moment it lit up with a familiar number on the screen. Instinctively he answered his mother's call but he instantly knew by her cracking voice that something was terribly wrong. The awful words punched a permanent hole in his soul, “I have terrible news, there’s been an accident. They’re gone, they’re all gone.” That night he had lied, he wasn’t working late. That night he could’ve gone with them but he went to her instead. For as long as he could remember he’s been a cheater and like all who cheat one day there will be a price to pay.