Fiction Sad Western

That night he had lied—he wasn’t working late, he could’ve gone with them, but he went to her instead.  

No one should have been surprised, after all he had been a cheater his whole life. Whether it was 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 his duplicity. 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, as his focus was elsewhere. Marco 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—and especially not his wife. 

“I’m running late, buddy,” Marco 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!”

Marco couldn’t watch as the boy turned back towards the house. He just 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 read the text at 3:00 a.m., but he hadn’t answered. Time, however, was of the essence. He would see her almost as soon as he entered the office. 

Sitting in the parking lot while his car idled, Marco struggled with himself. In what felt like a scene from a Saturday morning cartoon, an angel on his right shoulder pleaded with Marco to decline the invitation, but the devil on the left was busy reviewing the racy pictures he had received over the last few weeks. Those pictures, at the moment, were compelling.  

Why does it have to be Friday night? Marco thought to himself as he turned off the car. 

Friday night was family night. It could be movies, miniature golf, or even bowling, but the kids loved it when they were all together. Marco loved it even more. If he were going to meet her, he would have to lie to his wife and his children. 

His guardian 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. Something about the fresh air that filled his lungs gave Marco the clarity he had been missing since getting her text. 

Marco loved his wife and adored his children. He was going home after work and spending the evening with Michelle and the kids. 

Then he entered her office. 

“Well?” she asked. 

She was wearing a skin-tight red sweater, an equally form-fitting pencil skirt, and stilettos that accentuated the perfect curves of her calves. Her makeup was just so and her perfume smelled intoxicating. Marco lost all sense of perspective as he stood silently contemplating her invitation.

“Yes, I’m available,” Marco finally answered, breaking the silence and forgetting everything but his desire for her.

“Good, I’ll see you tonight.”

Marco knew in his soul what he was doing was unforgivable, but the moment he got to his office, he pulled out his cell phone anyway. 

“Hey there babe, I’ve got some bad news,” he began, the lie flowing effortlessly out of his mouth. “This project can’t wait for the weekend. I have to stay late. Maybe I can be home in time to tuck the kids 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—just disappointed. She always seemed to be disappointed. She rarely verbalized it but Marco knew he didn’t meet her impossible standards. How could he?

His thoughts became fractured and unreasonable. She expected too much— that was his justification. She deserved this, as he was merely living down to her expectations. 

Marco, like most men, had an incredible ability to compartmentalize, so after he hung up the phone, he attempted to immerse himself in his work. He wanted to lose himself by being busy, but his anticipation for her grew by the minute. Marco both wanted the day to speed along while also dreading time passing. Any hope of focus was dashed when she stopped by a few hours before closing.  

“I’m leaving early. I have some errands to run, and I want to get ready.” Marco couldn’t be sure, but it seemed as if she walked particularly slowly as she left his office. She was hunting him, using herself as bait.

“Get ready,” Marco repeated 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 his wait. As uncomfortable as these feelings were, he was enjoying the rush.

The walk 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 better choice, yet Marco forced the thought of Michelle from his mind. Multitasking, he pulled out of the parking lot while simultaneously putting her address into his GPS. As he came to a stop where he would usually turn right, a mechanical female voice gave him different instructions.  

“At the light, turn left.”  

This was his final chance to change his mind, but when the light turned green, he turned left. He was taking Robert Frost’s proverbial “road less traveled” to see if it really made all the difference.

The trip was less than twenty minutes, but the silence gave Marco time to think about what he was about to do and with whom he would do it. Nothing about her should have caught his eye; she was selfish and unfriendly. 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 family pictures adorned her desk. On one occasion, vulnerable because of too much wine, she confided in Marco that she had a son who succumbed to cancer before his third birthday. The next day at work she was colder than normal and the topic never arose again.

In contrast to her husband, Marco seemingly had the perfect wife. Yet, for some unfathomable reason, this other woman 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, Marco listened to people and looked them in the eye. He was attentive to their stories and remembered the small details. He accentuated their strengths and ignored their weaknesses. If anyone could crack her shell, it was him, and he was 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. 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.

Just under sixty minutes, that was all it took.  

From the moment Marco pulled into her driveway until 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 thoughts he wished he had been thinking earlier 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. After high school the two young lovers followed each other to college. Then, upon graduation, they set the date, with wedding invitations sent shortly thereafter. Of all the moments in his life, the one permanently burned into his memory was the sight of Michelle walking toward him on her father’s arm. Every bride is beautiful in their own way, but Michelle was magazine-cover beautiful, and for a moment he lost his breath. 

Inspired by her younger brother, born with Down’s Syndrome, Michelle dedicated 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 others. Michelle, it seemed, was always willing to talk about her work but avoided talking about Marco’s. It might not have been true, but Marco always felt she was ashamed of him and the career he had chosen.

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 whenever 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 a 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, and he had cheated on his children. How could anything ever be the same? There were no answers, and 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, to beg for forgiveness, and to 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 voice that something had gone tragically wrong.  

The awful words punched a permanent hole in his soul. “I have terrible news, son. There’s been an accident. They’re gone. They’re all gone.” 

“This is all my fault,” was all he could say over and over again. 

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’d been a cheater, and like all who cheat, one day there will be a price to pay.  

September 30, 2022 22:47

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.


Rebecca Miles
05:36 Oct 01, 2022

It was a good call to have the refrain of cheaters cheat; I'm glad Marco also felt what all cheats should feel: guilt and regret. I liked how you explored all forms of anxiety from jitters to mental hand-wringing. Yep, he comes to realise he's cheated on himself worse of all and that hits hard. Thanks for sharing.


Show 0 replies
Rux Ionescu
13:51 Oct 07, 2022

Hi Thom, I read and enjoyed your story and I was really captivated. Thank you for sharing. I like that he, the cheater, cheated death but that it came at such a cost. The story is strong visually, we're there with you, and there are a few choice descriptions that add to the experience - the popsicle against the crisp white shirt, Marco's sharp focus against the messy loving fuzz of home as he leaves for the office/his affair. I also liked the incisiveness with which you pick up on character traits, like: "Being liked had always consumed hi...


Show 0 replies
Aeris Walker
12:35 Oct 06, 2022

Oh man, what a gut-wrenching ending!! You made it so hard for the reader to feel any sense of “well, you had it coming” because of how remorseful Marco was, and how he planned to immediately own up to his mistake—but by then it was too late. That, to me, is one of the saddest things. You have a strong understanding of human motives and behavior—especially the reality that we can lay out all the facts of why “X” is a bad choice, why we should stop, why it’s wrong, but the second the senses gets involved, willpower tends to take a back seat...


Thom With An H
13:51 Oct 06, 2022

I’m so glad you liked this one. Your feedback is unbelievably encouraging. This, like most of my stories, left me with twinges of doubt right up to the last edit. It was an odd one to write. Most of my main characters are the good guys or girls. Marco was somewhere between hero and villain. I don’t believe his punishment fit his crime but fate isn’t always a fair judge. Thanks again for your kind words, they made this writer more likely to write again.


Aeris Walker
18:26 Oct 06, 2022

I think encouragement is like oxygen for writers—it can be such a lonely endeavor, to be trapped in your own mind when working on a story. I think completing it and then seeing how it’s received is when you really feel “done” with a story.


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply
Show 1 reply
Calvin Kirby
20:49 Oct 03, 2022

Thom, you shocked me with this one. It is so different from your other stories I have read. Unfortunately, some people forget how much they have to lose for a fling or misstep. You really got the feeling of wanting to grab Marco by the collar and shaking some sense into him. The ending was a big surprise, but really pointed out how much you have to lose in life by a stupid action. Great job, again. Just keep on writing!!! 🤗


Thom With An H
21:11 Oct 03, 2022

Cal I really appreciate the feedback. I know this one was far afield from my usual story but every now and then it's nice to stretch myself. I'm sure the next one will be a happier ending. :-)


Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.