After seven years of marriage, Linda fell in love. It was the first time she had been to work in months. Since the quarantine started, everyone at the firm had been working from home, many of them left the company altogether. Being back at work was a little nerve-wracking but she was happy to be out of the house, away from Joe and the baby. Of course she loved them, but she needed her space too. She was sure many marriages were being put to the test amid this isolation.
She was the senior consultant at a reputable law firm in the city. A position she worked hard for, that she prepared for her whole life really. She stood in the kitchenette steeping a tea bag, still half asleep when she saw him. A face from her childhood, the face of a man who had set her heart on fire and then broke it.
“Kevin?” She asked.
“Oh my God. Linda? Is that really you?” He laughed. “What the hell. You work here?”
“Yeah. I’m sort of the boss, actually. What are you doing here?” She stammered.
“I’m just a temp. You guys lost so many people they hired me to come in for a few months until you gained some new full-time employees,” he said, his eyes looking deep into hers, as if he was reading her mind.
Kevin was Linda’s high school fling. His family had moved to town during her senior year. Kevin had sat next to Linda in homeroom, so she helped him find his way around and introduced him to some people those first few days. He and Linda briefly dated before he started running with the popular crowd, which Linda wasn’t a part of. Linda was a bookworm, not exactly a nerd, but studious and focused. They had only dated, if you can even call it that, for several weeks before he broke her heart and fooled around with her best friend at running camp.
He looked the same, except even more handsome. Linda was a late bloomer. All those years of hard work had paid off though. She was a boss, landing the job of her dreams. And now Kevin was her temp, what a reversal of fortune. She tried not to stare at his mouth as he updated her on what he’d been doing since high school.
“Well I have to go,” Linda said, looking down at her watch.
“Okay, well it was nice to see you, I guess I’ll be seeing you around. What a small world,” he said, a smile spreading across his face as he looked down at her mouth. As he walked by she breathed his scent in, the same boyish smell of mint and soap and sweat.
That night as she lay in bed she thought about him. About the time he had put his hand on her knee in the back seat of her parent’s car, the way he had tried to move it up her thigh before she took it off, even though she wanted it, the look in his eyes, the longing. The insatiable fire he had lit inside her. He was the first boy she had ever tongue kissed. It was in the kitchen of her friend’s house, as a dare. Sloppy wagging tongues setting her insides on fire, their friends laughing. She had been nervous she was doing it wrong but Kevin always took the lead. She could tell it wasn’t his first kiss. A warm flush moved up her thighs just thinking about it.
Joe rolled over and kissed the back of her neck, moving his hand up her waist. He picked up her hand and put it on his belly. She knew when she was being summoned. She wondered what Kevin was doing right now.
Over the next several days Kevin and Linda would pass each other in the halls and see each other in the morning conference. They would smile at each other, sometimes their gaze lasting a little bit too long. He could still make her blush just by looking at her, forcing her to look away first. One morning he ran his pen up her spine while she was talking to her secretary and she nearly purred. She wondered if he was married? Kids?
Linda and Joe had been married for seven years. They had a baby boy they had tried for years to conceive. Years of IVF took an emotional and financial toll on their marriage. They found out one child was enough, it was 2:1 and they could still barely keep up with him.
She found herself thinking about Kevin more and more, even on the weekends. Lying in bed one night, while Joe snored next to her, she remembered the time her and Kevin jumped in the lake with their clothes on after a run. How he pressed his body against hers. She’d never had a boyfriend before. She remembered the way his strong thigh moved up between her legs. How she felt him become aroused against her leg.
As the weeks went by she found herself putting on a little more make-up and taking a little longer to do her hair in the morning. One evening as she laid out her work clothes Joe joked “wow, really bringing out you’re A-game for work lately.” She hadn’t told him about Kevin. She felt herself going down a slippery slope, but she couldn’t stop. She told herself a harmless flirtation was healthy for a marriage. The sexual tension however, was growing.
“So what’s up with you and the new guy,” Erin said one day in the lunchroom. Erin was her best friend at work. She started at the firm two years ago and since then they'd become good friends. They went out after work once a month or so for drinks to discuss Erin’s failing marriage, amongst other things. Erin had been having an affair for six months. She was very brazen about it, as if it was something everyone did.
“What do you mean?” Linda laughed, her pulse quickening.
“Oh please, it’s so obvious you guys want each other. Everyone knows it,” Erin said
“No way, we just know each other from a long time ago.”
“Ok. You’re gonna go with that story. Okay, that’s fine. I thought we were friends. But that’s cool,” she said rolling her eyes as she took her stir-fry out of the microwave and left.
That evening when Linda left work, Kevin was sitting on the bench outside, talking on his phone. She waved bye to him as she walked by but he covered the phone with his hand and said “Wait, hold up a second.” Linda gulped as he told the person on the phone “Ok bye, talk to you later.” She wondered who he was talking to. A pang of burning jealousy crept up her neck, sending her into a mental tornado. What was this control he had over her?
“Hey what are you doing tomorrow after work?” He asked, getting up from the bench.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t have any plans,” she lied. Of course she had plans. They consisted of making dinner for her husband, giving her son a bath, reading him a book while they watched a movie and then going to bed by 8 p.m.
“Want to go out for a drink after work?” he asked.
“Oh. I don’t think so. I have to pick up the baby on my way home from work.”
“You have a kid?” he smiled.
“And a husband,” she joked.
“Oh wow. You’ve got it all. Well if you get a night off from that perfect life, a couple of us are going out for a drink at Mickey’s if you want to join us.”
“Ok cool. See you tomorrow,” she said. As she walked away she felt his eyes on her ass.
When she got home that night, Joe was attempting to make dinner while the baby was emptying the cabinets and banging pots together.
“Hey babe,” he yelled out from the kitchen. He came around the corner as she took off her new high heels. He was wearing his green apron that said “Kiss my asparagus.” She hated that apron. She had actually thrown it out once but he found it on the top of the trash and took it back out. Now every time he wore it it irked her, like a silent defiance. Their relationship had been particularly stressed lately since the baby had started sleeping in their room. Needless to say romance at night, or anytime really, was off the table.
The next morning Linda told Joe she had to work late that night and asked if he could pick the baby up from daycare. “Sure,” he said. A pang of guilt stabbed her heart. Her guilt was eclipsed by her desire.
The next morning conference was held as usual, Linda breezed in, her silky blouse showing just the right amount of cleavage when she bent over. Kevin nodded at her as she sat down. As the meeting dragged on Kevin wrote on her note pad. “Are you coming tonight? Yes or No? Circle one.” She took his pen, leaned over and circled “yes.” "Good," he wrote back.
That afternoon Linda and Erin went out to lunch. After some small talk Linda started asking questions about Erin's lover.
"Where do you guys go?"
"Do you ever feel guilty?"
"Is it weird being with someone else after so long?" Erin answered all the questions the way Linda had hoped, making an affair sound completely nonchalant.
"And why are you so interested in this suddenly?" Erin asked.
"No reason," Linda said. Erin raised her eyebrow.
When she got to Mickey’s that evening, several of her colleagues, including Kevin, were already sitting at a high top table by the bar.
After a few beers Kevin and Linda were laughing as they told Erin about the time they were drinking beer in the woods and the cops came. Linda leaned in close to him, breathing in his scent, when she felt his hand on her knee under the table. She was transported back to her parent’s backseat. Just then her phone rang on the table. It was Joe. Erin picked it up and turned it to silent. Then Kevin picked it up and put his number in her contact list.
Erin shot her a look and ordered them a round of tequila. After taking her shot Erin tried dragging Linda with her on the dance floor. Linda squirmed out of her grasp and Erin made her way out alone, twirling, singing Sweet Caroline, tossing her white-blonde hair around. Linda wished she had Erin’s confidence. She looked at Kevin but he hadn’t even noticed Erin, he hadn’t taken his eyes off her, however.
“I should go,” Linda said.
“Okay, well I’m glad you came,” he said looking disappointed as he put his hand on hers, flashing that smile, oh that smile.
“Yeah it was fun. See you Monday,” she blurted and made her way to the door before she changed her mind. As she waited on the curb for them to bring her car around, Kevin came out the door, buttoning up his black peacoat.
“You’re still here,” he smiled.
“Yeah I guess it’s a busy time of night,” she felt her chest tighten as he approached her.
“Look Linda... for what it’s worth, I’m sorry I hurt you all those years ago. I was just a stupid kid. If I could go back in time...well you know. It looks like you got the last laugh though. I mean look at you. Beautiful, successful, you have it all figured out,” he said shaking his head as he looked her over, his eyes intense as ever.
“Oh please, I wouldn’t say that,” she smiled, and as she looked up at him he reached his hand to her face and ran his thumb over her lips. Then he leaned in to kiss her. His warm mouth enveloped hers and he poked his tongue in her mouth. She was transported back to her friend's kitchen, except this time she knew what to do.
Her Range Rover pulled up to the curb and Kevin stepped back slowly as she opened her eyes. “Goodnight,” he said as he turned to walk down the street. She was dizzy.
When Linda got home Joe had already gotten the baby to bed and he was asleep on the couch. She was grateful. She tiptoed upstairs to get cleaned up and went to bed, without waking him.
The weekend was uneventful, she felt like she was just going through the motions. She couldn’t think about anything besides that kiss and Kevin. She replayed it over and over in her head. She couldn’t wait for Monday. To see him. What do they do now? She ran through the million possibilities in her head.
Monday morning she got to work early, but no Kevin.
“Did Kevin call in sick?” she asked her secretary.
“No, they let him go this morning. We’re going back to only essential staff because the covid numbers are going up again.” Linda felt as if she had been hit in the gut , the wind had been knocked out of her.
Later that night when Joe was getting the baby to bed, she called Kevin from the bathroom. A woman answered the phone. Linda immediately felt betrayed. Her competition? Then Kevin picked up.
“Kevin? Hi, its Linda,” she said.
“Oh, hey Linda,” he said casually.
“I missed you at work today. What’s the deal? Did they let you go?”
“Yeah. I was just a temp anyway. No big deal. I start a new position next week.”
“Oh…” she hesitated waiting for him to say something else. “So...now what?”
“Now what?” He asked.
“Am I going to see again?” She asked.
“Linda...I like you, but...you’re married. I mean...I just….” He stammered
“Okay. I get it. Bye Kevin,” She said as she put the phone down, feeling like she could die right there. The tears flowed like they hadn’t flowed in years. How could she have been so stupid? How cruel could life be to let her heart be broken not once, but twice? And by the same man.
She was sitting on the toilet sobbing, unable to contain herself, when Joe knocked and opened the door. The heartache rendered her listless.
“Babe? Oh no,” he said sympathetically and got to his knees in front of her.
“Oh honey, it’ll be okay, this quarantine will be over soon. I know it’s a really hard time right now. But it’ll be okay. We’ll get through this. Shhh,” he shushed her as he took her into his arms and stroked her head, rocking her like a baby.
For now, the heartbreak would protect her from the stifling guilt. She would never tell Joe about her indiscretion, keeping it buried down deep, haunting her like an unrelenting ghost. The guilt would be the hardest in the quiet moments, like when he held her hand while driving the car or when they checked on their sleeping son together. No matter how deep she tried to bury it, it would eat away at her, like a stone eroded by the sea over time.