As Kelsey sat next to Ron in the waiting room, she couldn’t stop thinking about their last session.
“No,” Ron had finally admitted to her. “I’m not attracted to you anymore.”
Kelsey had felt her eyes immediately well up with tears. Dr. Davis looked on quietly, not interrupting this long awaited moment in which Ron finally told her the truth. It had been weeks of this – sitting in Dr. Davis’s office next to each and across from him, while Dr. Davis asked the two of them slightly prodding and slightly pointless questions, about them individually and as a couple, about their childhoods, about their hopes and dreams, and even though couple’s therapy had been Kelsey’s idea even she had to roll her eyes sometimes. But now, finally, Ron was opening up. He was telling her the truth. It just wasn’t the truth she wanted to hear.
“Okay,” Kelsey had said, wiping the tears from her eyes before they could roll down her cheeks. “Did you ever?”
Ron seemed to consider her question, like he really had to think about it. Then he shrugged as if he wasn’t sure. “Yeah, at first.”
“And what’s so different now?” Kelsey asked, her sadness beginning to give way to anger. Finally, she thought. After crying for months, it felt good to be a little bit mad.
Ron looked at Dr. Davis, not wanting to respond. Dr. Davis nodded encouragingly.
“Your weight,” Ron said tentatively. He wouldn’t look her in the eye. “And, I don’t know. Maybe I never found you attractive. We were so young, and you were my first everything and I didn’t see how I could do any better.”
Kelsey wasn’t sure if that was a compliment or an insult.
“And it’s all about babies now,” Ron went on. “It’s all you talk about. Our kids, your friends’ kids, wanting more kids, buying stuff for the kids. It’s not hot,” he said, and Kelsey thought it was the meanest thing he’d ever said to her in their entire nine year relationship. “I’m not saying I don’t love the kids, because of course I love them, but sometimes I want to talk about other things. I want to have intellectually stimulating discussions and conversations, and that’s something we’ve never done,” he finished.
Kelsey again found herself forcing away tears. “Is that what you did with her?” she asked quietly.
“Yes,” he said. He hadn’t even had to think about it.
Kelsey wasn’t blind. She’d known something was wrong for awhile, but had been unable to voice it, or to figure out what it was on her own.
She knew she’d put on some weight since they’d first met as teenagers. She knew that she wasn’t what most guys would describe as hot, or beautiful. She was generic and average. And she knew that Ron wasn’t often truly invested or interested in their conversations – usually it was her talking, and him nodding and saying “Uh huh” as he scrolled through his phone or read an article on his laptop. But she’d never thought that was bad. At least he pretended to listen – some men couldn’t even do that. And he always went along with what she wanted. When she wanted to get engaged, he bought her a ring. When she wanted to get married, he let her plan their wedding, and he paid for it, saying yes to whatever she wanted – color schemes, passed hors d’oeuvres, an outdoor garden ceremony with the reception at one of the fanciest hotels in the city. It was her dream wedding, and he wouldn’t have gone along with it if he didn’t want to, right? That was what she told herself – if he didn’t want to, he wouldn’t have done it.
When she wanted to have a baby, he agreed. And a second baby. When Kelsey wanted to quit her job and be a stay at home mom, he agreed to that too. “That’s what you said you wanted, right?” she remembered saying to him one night, trying to cuddle up next to him in bed. “To be the provider for our family?”
“Yeah,” he’d said. Then he’d moved away from her, claiming to be tired, but once he thought she was asleep, she heard him get up and leave the room.
Next to her in the waiting room, Ron was texting Emily on his phone, trying to subtly angle the screen away from Kelsey.
He’d told Kelsey, and Dr. Davis, that he was committed to their marriage, but he couldn’t stop thinking about Emily. Her eyes. Her hair. Her body. God, her body was perfect. Her mind. She was so smart, and it felt incredible to talk to someone about real things, substantial things that were happening in the world, not just blathering on about babies and play dates and when Kelsey was ovulating because she wanted to have yet another baby, because apparently two wasn’t enough. Kelsey didn’t care about money or finances or their budget, she took no interest in it, and it felt so fucking good to talk to someone about how frustrated he was with what his life had become. He could talk to Emily, really talk. They shared their thoughts and opinions and insights, like people would do in a normal, healthy, two sided relationship, a relationship in which both people pulled their weight and it wasn’t one person doing all of the legwork.
He had no idea when he’d be able to see Emily again. Now everything he did and every move he made aroused suspicion. He shouldn’t even be on his phone right now, and he could feel Kelsey’s eyes on him, but he couldn’t help himself. He’d never been so in love.
I don’t know why I’m doing this, he’d texted Emily last night from behind the locked bathroom door with the shower running.
So don’t, Emily had replied.
I have to. For my kids, he wrote back.
You want your kids to have an unhappy marriage as their first example of love? she had asked.
He didn’t know what to say to that. He told her that he was exhausted, and promised to call her tomorrow from his office phone. He knew she had a point, but after growing up with divorced parents who hated each other and constantly being shuffled around from house to house, parent to parent, he felt like he couldn’t do that to his own kids. They were little now, and if he and Kelsey patched things up, they might not even remember this period of their lives at all.
He’d always been ruled by a sense of duty and obligation. He’d been with Kelsey for so long that he was obligated to her now. He was obligated to support her, pay her bills, buy her groceries and food, and now he was responsible for the children they had made together. If they needed clothes or shoes or diapers, it was his responsibility to retrieve it and pay for it. When he first met Emily, he’d experienced what he believed was love at first sight, and he laid in bed that night wondering if he’d ever in his entire life done something because he wanted to, not because he had to, or at least felt like he had to. It was this nagging fear in the back of his mind that he’d had to keep at bay – if he didn’t do The Right Thing, something terrible would happen, life would be ruined, not just his life but his family’s life. He remembered his mother telling him to Just do what you’re told and wondered how it came to be that that one phrase had guided his entire life.
He had met Emily through work. She worked for one of his firm’s biggest clients, and one day several months ago, they were in a meeting together, along with a bunch of other people from both companies. He didn’t remember what the meeting was about now, but he remembered her perfectly. She was petite, with long dark hair and even darker eyes, and she was wearing a pink silk blouse. After the meeting, they struck up a conversation about a podcast they both liked, which became a conversation about whatever else they had in common, which seemed to be practically everything. He remembered specifically saying “my wife” during the conversation, making sure to add that in somewhere so that she’d know he was taken and he wasn’t hitting on her, and she reciprocated by mentioning her fiancé. Then, before she left, she handed him her card. “Email me sometime,” she said, and then she’d smiled, shook his hand, and walked out of the building.
He walked around for the next two days with her card in his wallet. He didn’t plan to use it, but he enjoyed knowing it was there. Then, one Friday, he took her card out, and he sent her an email. She responded less than ten minutes later, and from there, their friendship grew.
One day, after a few weeks of emailing back and forth, he asked her to lunch. They met at a local lunch spot near both of their offices. They both ordered sandwiches, and once they started talking, they completely lost track of time. He began to notice how indescribably beautiful she was. She had a great laugh, and he loved hearing it, so he tried to make her laugh as often as he could, but she made him laugh as well, the two of them sitting there together, cracking up over some new inside joke.
I met my future wife, Ron caught himself thinking after they’d parted ways that afternoon. Then he remembered that he was already married.
Out of the corner of her eye, Kelsey saw Ron trying to angle his phone so that she couldn’t see the screen. He was texting her again. She knew it.
Kelsey found out about the affair by mistake – early one morning, still half asleep, she grabbed his phone off their nightstand, thinking it was hers. That’s when she saw the messages. Hundreds of them. They texted all day, every day. And it wasn’t just sexual, she found out, although there was that too – they were close. He confided in her, and she in him. They said I love you, all the time. He sent her long messages about how amazing and beautiful she was, how he’d never been so in love before, he couldn’t wait to be with her forever.
Later that day, Kelsey looked at the messages in her own phone. Her texts with Ron did not ever contain the word love. It was all her asking him to pick up milk, telling her what the kids were doing, nagging him about her ovulation schedule and timing sex to conceive their third child at the perfect time.
The weeks after she’d confronted him were a blur. At first, he denied that he had feelings for the other woman. He said that he hadn’t meant any of what he said to her, it was just sexual and that’s it. He apologized profusely, and promised he’d never see or speak to her again. Kelsey’s sad hope was that this would make him a better husband to her. Maybe now he’d be more attentive, more loving, even if it was out of guilt. But instead, he seemed depressed. He wasn’t eating much, and he was watching a lot more TV than he used to. On weekends, he slept till noon, something he’d never done before in his life.
In the middle of one night, Kelsey awoke to him crying in his sleep. She tried to comfort him, and he clutched at her in a way he never had before. “I miss her so much,” he sobbed.
“Who?” Kelsey asked gently.
He didn’t answer, just cried more muffled sobs into her sleeve, but then she could just barely make out the name that he was saying through his cries: Emily.
The next morning, Kelsey told him that she wanted them to go to couple’s counseling together to save their marriage. Ron looked forlorn, so impossibly sad, but he agreed.
Now, she didn’t even know why she wanted it in the first place. She was no longer convinced that Ron’s relationship with this other woman was strictly physical. He was behaving like a lovesick teenager. She wondered if him telling her that he didn’t find her beautiful was just a way to get her to leave him, so he could be free.
She didn’t want to need him, but she did. She hadn’t held a real job in years. Their kids were too little for school, and she’d never be able to afford daycare on her own. The reality of her situation was that she needed Ron to fund her life, and for that reason, she wouldn’t let him go. She was accustomed to a certain standard of living, and the thought of giving up her life of mommy luxury was unfathomable.
After their first session, when Ron brought up her weight, she’d briefly considered going on a diet. Maybe if she was thin and hot again, he’d be happy with her. He wouldn’t need to look at other women. But wasn’t the point of being married that you didn’t have to worry about that stuff anymore? She thought about her single girlfriends and their diligent exercise routines, always rushing to Pure Barre or SoulCycle or boot camp classes, always ordering salads, always making sure their hair and makeup looked pretty and perfect. Kelsey hadn’t worried about that crap for years. Some days she didn’t even bother showering or changing out of her pajamas. She was married – who did she have to impress? She didn’t want to go on a diet or put any effort into her appearance. It shouldn’t matter, looks don’t matter, she thought, beauty comes from within. It’s what’s on the inside that counts. She repeated these mantras to herself over and over.
She looked over at Ron, who was still trying to discreetly text on his phone. “Do you even want to be here?” she asked quietly, angry and annoyed and hurt by his behavior. She felt like walking out the door and never coming back.
Ron put his phone down. “No,” he said.
“Then why are you here?” Kelsey asked.
“For the kids.”
“That’s it? Not for me? Not for us?”
Ron laughed, but it was a sad laugh, and he put his head in his hands, leaning forward in his chair. “I don’t know how to tell you this,” he said.
“Tell me what?” Kelsey asked, confused.
Ron sat up again, and turned to face her. “I don’t love you anymore,” he said.
Kelsey had no words.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “This just doesn’t work anymore, and to be honest I don’t know if it ever has.”
After a moment, Kelsey swallowed her tears and said, “Shouldn’t we wait for Dr. Davis?”
She could tell that Ron had thought that he’d be free to go after he said that, and he was visibly disappointed when she said that. “Yeah,” he said. “Okay.”
It’ll be fine, Kelsey thought. Dr. Davis would tell Ron that he had to stay with Kelsey, because if he didn’t it would ruin their kids’ lives, and he’d also tell him that he was obligated to her, that they made vows to one another, and whether Ron liked it or not, he was stuck with her for life. Once he realized that he had no choice in the matter, everything would be fine.
It would be fine, Ron thought. Dr. Davis would tell Kelsey that she couldn’t hold him hostage anymore, that it wasn’t fair for him to be so unhappy, that their kids would be fine, in fact they’d be better off because at least they would grow up with parents who were happy, not parents who couldn’t even look at each other. He’d made a mistake, but he deserved happiness, didn’t he? Didn’t everyone? Once Kelsey realized that he deserved to be happy too, she’d free him to be with Emily, and everything would be fine.
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I read this awhile back, and came back to it because I kept thinking about it. This is so well done! I just love the characters, their conflicts, their motives... etc. Your descriptions, and the honest way Kelsey describes herself, are just so pleasing to read. I've got an idea for you, and I think it would make sense: Ron's motive for staying. Right now it's just for his kids, right? Truly I think that's not enough. Perhaps if Emily told him, "I think you should stay with her, for the kids and because it's torturing you," it would add bulk ...
I really like your take on the prompt. Beautiful heartfelt story, and quite sad. Great job!! I applaud you! clap clap clapp hahaaa :P
This is wonderful. I loved the way you unfolded Ron and Kelsey's mentalities. Great Job! keep writing!
Hey there! This is a really interesting take on the prompt. You describe things really well! Mind checking out my new story and sharing your views on it? Thanks
A sad, but all too true, take on romance when the fire is gone.